They were playing Jumanji while cozying up around the coffee table. The family reclined in a moment reminiscent of life in lockdown.
“May I read it? It says, ‘Trouble! Hurry up and escape, or you’ll be covered in the rubble!'” Melissa Alfaris (7) exclaimed.
Melissa and her brother, Ramoy, 10, dominated the board game while their parents quietly played along.
Nawfel Alfaris and Riam Jamel have worked hard to give their children a peaceful life in Western Sydney’s Macarthur electorate.
The couple fled Iraq during the war and entrusted Australia as their new home. And they also relied on the government until last year.
“In the beginning, when people [were] when we talked about it, like, ‘You’re from the southwestern area,’ we were like, ‘OK, but we’re still right,’ said Ms. Jamel.
“But what happened with the lockdown gave us proof that we had second-[class] citizens in Australia.”
Nawfel Alfaris and Riam Jamel believe the city’s west was discriminated against during the Sydney lockdown last year. (ABC News: Tim Swanston)
During extended lockdowns, helicopters circled the suburbs as additional police officers and the Australian Defense Force put boots on the ground in western Sydney.
Being part of some three million residents of western Sydney who were hit by worse pandemic restrictions than those in the east was traumatic.
“I think it brings back memories of where we fled. The way the government handled it in the beginning and the harsh response was too much,” said Mr. Alfaris.
It’s a feeling shared by others in the community, according to Ms. Jamel. She is desperate to move forward but still feels disillusioned by Saturday’s polls.
“As a mother of two, I’m going to pick someone who will be looking for… [out] for the children. They must be planning something for the family, but I don’t see this,” said Mrs. Jamel.
‘The West and the rest’: how can trust be restored?
Constant rule changes and confusing health messages for the large migrant population in the region fueled distrust in the authorities, Alfaris said.
However, he hopes that politicians can change things by listening to the communities they serve.
“Trust starts with communication, open communication. You want your voice to be heard. You want to feel that you have a say in decision-making,” he said.
Uni student Zahra Soltani says more attention is needed to tackle mental health issues in the region. (ABC News: Rani Hayman)
University student Zahra Soltani agrees that “a lack of communication” has led to feelings of mistrust.
“People started losing their jobs… some [were] living on the streets and this kind of poverty, and if they can’t take care of themselves, they don’t have a home or food,” Ms. Soltani said.
Her family seeks refuge in Australia and lives in the Electorate of Chifley in western Sydney after fleeing Afghanistan more than ten years ago.
The 19-year-old was in year 12 when the lockdown began. She believes a focus on mental health can help build bridges.
“They should give good lessons, especially in high school to [handle] mental illness and who to talk to.”
Business owner Lan Ta says businesses are still struggling. (ABC News: Rani Hayman)
For the past 18 months, Lan Ta had a business in Fairfield — located in the Fowler electorate — a suburb once declared by authorities to be the epicenter of the Delta outbreak.
More than six months out of the lockdown, the community is still struggling, according to Ms. Ta.
It was “challenging” to run the company, but, she said, more support from all levels of government would help.
“Start small, so we can visually see that there are improvements in the local community or engagement, and then I think with that confidence will grow,” sai.d Ms Ta.
Police roamed the streets of Fairfield last July. (MONKEY: Mick Tsikas/File)
Focus groups conducted by the Western Sydney Migrant Resource Center (WSMRC) – in the suburbs of Fairfield, Liverpool, and Canterbury Bankstown – have found mental health and well-being, affordable housing, employment, and COVID-19 recovery are also among the top concerns for some residents.
“It’s been very much ‘the West and the rest,’ and we’ve seen that division through policy. However, it’s more about trust than policy going forward,” said WSMRC executive director Feng Guo.
“Something very important to people is that candidates are visible, involved in the community, present on the ground.
“That will help bridge the gap that exists right now.”
Feng Guo, executive director of the Western Sydney Migrant Resource Centre, says candidates must be visible. (included)
The pro-vice chancellor of the University of Western Sydney, Andy Marks, said the confidence erosion reflected a “government messaging failure” during the lockdown.
“You have to rely on his” [Western Sydney’s] strengths and that the powers of the region are its multilingual assets, and you don’t do that if you fail because of direct messaging to those communities,” said Professor Marks.
“But I think politicians can learn from what we’ve seen in local communities. Those people showed up no matter what. That’s what we expect from our politicians, at the very least.”