Hamoud Afret can’t write his own name.
School stopped being a priority when his father was killed in the 1980s war between Iraq and Iran.
Now, on the other side of the world, Hamoud hopes to give his family the security he was never afforded.
There are 18 cities in his home country, Iraq, and travelling between them is fraught with danger.
“It’s dangerous to travel. If you travel from city to city and you’re lucky, you won’t find a terrorist or ISIS or people who don’t like you,” Hamoud says.
Mass killings and abductions by terrorist group ISIS forced Yazidi people like Hamoud to flee into the Sinjar mountains, where hundreds were slaughtered.
Women and children are forced into sexual slavery by the terrorists, and it isn’t safe to leave the confines of the village, Hamoud says with the help of an interpreter – he doesn’t speak a lick of English.
“If you are not lucky, you will find checkpoints and maybe they’ll kill you. The best scenario: you will get some slaps and go home,” he said.
“And the worst – chop the head.”
All government paperwork and IDs must be processed in Mosul, a major city north of Baghdad embattled in a bloody tug-of-war between ISIS and a US-led military coalition.
Hamoud feared for his life and would not go to Mosul for more than a decade.
A farmer by trade, he grew wheat and barley crops, onion, tomato, cucumber, eggplant and green beans in his home country.
When he first saw the rural town of Armidale, NSW, he wasn’t fussed on the look of the place.
He really struggled to cope with the overwhelming transition for 15 days.
“The place where I am now is beautiful, but changing the culture and the place, it’s a big challenge and that’s what I was worried about,” he says.
Hamoud and his family have felt more welcomed by the elderly community in Armidale, unable to connect with the town’s youth.
“The elderly people in the street, when we walk in they say hello, smile, sometimes they give us a lift. But the young people, nothing. They don’t say hi, nothing,” he says.
“I want people to understand we are just humans seeking for a life.”
Hamoud and his family are among 200 asylum seekers to arrive in Armidale with limited English and often nothing more than a suitcase.
In the weeks following their arrival, they are shown to furnished short-term housing close to town.
Eventually they will learn about Australian law, their rights and responsibilities.
A case manager links them with accommodation before they are registered with banks, Medicare, Centrelink, schools and the Adult Migrant English Program.
It’s expected they will have long-term housing, employment and be able to speak sufficient English by the six-month mark.
All of them have witnessed horrors unimaginable to most, their ancient traditions, culture and religion under daily threat of extinction.
Thousands of kilometres away, Robin Jones relentlessly campaigned to save the lives of complete strangers.
Dr Jones volunteered in African and Thai refugee camps and co-founded a settlement support group in Armidale.
“I advocated on every imaginable front, every committee I joined, every local, regional, state and national channel I advocated on,” she says.
“I knew first-hand that every other area of Australia had some challenges, either employment or housing or local disquiet about people coming in – I knew Armidale had none of those.”
Known for its four distinct seasons and abundance of churches, the town distinguishes itself with an unusually multicultural society.
Everything from jobs and haircuts to just a friendly cup of tea are offered to the refugees freely by the community.
The horrific experiences of the families Dr Jones visits are beyond belief.
“ISIS currently is the major terror in their lives and the first thing they said to me was they want to be safe, because all their lives they have never felt safe,” she says.
“I’m a firm believer in multiculturalism. We are enriched by having people from other lands, with other practices and culture, I really believe that.”
Already culture is being shared: the Yazidis teach Dr Jones their traditional dance and she helps them cook hot chips.
The Yazidis have been drawn to the comfort of familiarity, forming friendships with other persecuted families taking shelter in the town.
Resettlement can take anywhere from two to 10 years for most.
Before Zuhoor Khudhur came to Australia, her family was housed in a small apartment in Turkey.
Here she lives with her husband and two daughters.
Her other children were resettled in Germany almost a decade ago and are married with children of their own.
To survive and keep busy, she ran a recycling plant with other displaced people in Turkey.
She’s bilingual and rumoured to be a fantastic cook.
She speaks, with audible trepidation, in Kurdish-Kumanji.
“ISIS attacked our village,” she says.
“Armidale is better in every aspect. It can’t be compared to the bad situation in Iraq.
“We think the community here understands our case and what happened to us.”
Like many of the refugees in Armidale, she’s carefully optimistic about her future.
In her eyes there is both fragility and strength.