Refugee Week 2020: Finding comfort in Australian Football – the story of two Iraqi cousins

Iraqi cousins Dalin Koro and Lorisya Qaqoz have found home in Australia since moving, expressing gratitude for their newfound safety and ability to be able to play football freely.

Dalin Koro was just 10 years old  when her parents made the decision was to move their family to Australia. With the priority of keeping the children safe at the forefront, Koro had no choice other than to follow her parents.

Koro and her family left Iraq in 2011 and, after residing temporarily in Lebanon for two years, they finally made the flight over to Australia in 2013 during the cold winter months.

“[Iraq] was dangerous for us, especially us kids, we were all young,” Koro said.

“The day that I found out… I was still young. I didn’t have any choice; I just followed my parents. I was a little bit sad to leave my country, my friends. It was sad for everyone.”

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Lorisya Qaqoz was 13 years old when her family made the move over to Australia in 2017. Unlike on her cousin’s arrival, Qaqoz was treated to a beautiful Australian day, regretting the winter clothes she had on to keep her warm in the Turkish winter from where she had just left.

An unsettling start to her new life, Qaqoz and her family moved from house to house as they visited all their family who already lived in Australia.

“I was going from house to another house because all my family was coming and taking us to their house. I was just with my cousins, my uncles and aunties. Then they took us to the cities, it was beautiful,” Qaqoz said.

Dalin and Lori together
Dalin and her younger cousin Lori are part of Football United (Photo: Ann Odong / FFA)

Koro memories of Iraq were of being a little girl living a happy life with her friends and family each day. Koro would play almost absolutely everything with the other children – except for the one sport she really wanted to be a part of.

“I loved doing everything [with family and friends] because our houses were close to each other so we would go out every day until midnight. We would play everything except soccer because no one would play soccer, and I was the only one who would play with boys,” Koro said.

Upon arriving to Australia, Koro joined Football United. The opportunity  afforded Koro with a complete change of attitude toward including girls in football and providing an equal opportunity to play.

From first being indifferent about the move to Australia, Koro found that once she had settled into school, made friends, and playing football with Football United, she was able to see the move as a happy experience.

Qaqoz on the other hand was happy about moving to Australia from the moment she found out of the news. She was relived about being somewhere she and her family could live safely.

“I was happy, I even cried before coming to Australia,” Qaqoz said.

Lori and Dalin

Football was not just a sport for Koro, it was her way of realising she finally belonged to something and was able to feel safe in being a part of a team.

“Football [is] very important for me especially because you have an opportunity to play here. Back in my country you didn’t have opportunity to play especially if you were a girl,” Koro said.

It was like we were all playing as one, it’s not like I play as me. We were all playing as one group, one family.”

For Qaqoz, the realisation that she can be a girl who plays a sport, and no longer has the expectations to be a housewife has been by far the most rewarding aspect of moving to Australia.

Football makes me feel happy because I can be with my friends, my cousins, meet new people, everyone supports each other when we play.” 

“They made us think [in Iraq] about all the sports were for boys and girls are just to do chores, sit at home, go study and get married.”

Koro and Qaqoz are just two of the many young women who have found a home not just in Australia, but home in Australian football.

Without their parents ever moving them, both girls would never have been able to play the sport they love so much.