But before Sunday, when the young Iraqi became an Australian citizen in one one of Sydney’s largest-ever citizenship ceremonies, he had made it his business to learn about the man behind the name of the E.G. Whitlam Centre, where the ceremony took place.
“I know he changed a lot of rules around immigration and I am very grateful to him that I could come to a country which respects everyone, and where I am not treated like a second class citizen,” he said.
The teen who who fled his country with his family five years ago because of religious persecution, was one of 500 from 50 different countries who became citizens in Liverpool yesterday. His family who came from Iraq via Syria, was persecuted due to their identification as Mandaeans, an ethno religious group of around 10,000 indigenous to a part of Iraq.
“It was very hard for us, particularly when the war came to Basra,” Zakariya said. “There was no help for Mandaeans by the law or the government.”
Zakariya, who spent six months at the Intensive English Centre in Lurnea as a 13-year-old arrival, is graduating from Lurnea High School this year and has been accepted into a bachelor of policing degree at the University of Western Sydney.
“I want to be a policeman because there is opportunity for different people, diverse people in the police force,” the Casula resident said.
Liverpool Mayor Wendy Waller, who officiated at the ceremony, said almost four of every 10 people living in Liverpool Council’s area were born overseas, while almost half of its population speaks a language other than English.
“Our residents come from more than 150 birthplaces,” she said.“This illustrates Liverpool’s rich cultural diversity, which is celebrated and embraced by our community.
“Liverpool also has one of the highest intakes of refugees and humanitarian migrants in Australia, which is why we have declared ourselves a Refugee Welcome Zone.”
The ceremony in the heart of Sydney’s multicultural west, included the naturalisation of 175 Iraqis, 48 Vietnamese, 33 Lebanese and Indians and a host of people from other small countries like Bosnia and Sri Lanka, and larger ones like Algeria, Zimbabwe and the United States.
Zakariya’s father Mohamad and older brothers Bassam and Fawwaz were naturalised on the same day. His sister Ruaa Swazi will become an Australian citizen next week. Latest statistics show Liverpool local government area is home to 9,885 Iraqi born residents, the second-biggest group after Australian born.