Aliir Aliir is a key part of the Sydney Swans Football Club’s future, but life could have been very different for his family had they not been granted humanitarian visas to come to Australia. Aliir was born in a Kenyan Refugee camp to Sudanese parents after his family was forced to flee the war in South Sudan.
"My parents don’t talk a lot about the war in South Sudan but I know my family’s safety was at risk and they had no choice but to leave. My brother and I were born in the Refugee Camp. We were so young while living in the camp so our memories of that time thankfully are only positive," Aliir said.
"I come from a big family so my time in the camp was spent playing with my parents and siblings. Being born in the camp meant that I also didn’t know life any other way. It wasn’t until I was a little older that my brother explained things to me. I understand many people in the camp had no choice but to flee to safety, leaving behind their homes and all their belongings".
"While in the camp my mother was in touch with my uncle in Australia who helped her to apply for the Special Humanitarian Programme visas. In 2003 we received the amazing news that our visas had been granted and we would be going to Australia".
Aliir was eight years old when he and his family arrived in Australia. They were greeted by family at the airport.
"It was such an amazing feeling arriving in Sydney. I met my uncle, aunty and cousins for the first time in my life. My mum was really emotional; being so young I didn’t really know why. Now I am older I understand," Aliir said.
"Rocking up to Sydney was crazy; I was seeing big buildings for the first time in my life. It was surreal. I also saw items I didn’t even know existed such as a fridge. Cooking in Kenya we’d start a fire and use pots and pans, in Australia we had an oven; I’d never see one before!"
Aliir has lived in a number of different towns and cities since arriving in Australia including Sydney, Newcastle, Brisbane and Perth and played Australian rules football in most of these locations.
Aliir began playing Australian rules football for the first time at 16 years of age at the Aspley Hornets club in Brisbane.
"It all started when I was kicking the ball around with a mate at school and he asked me if I wanted to try out for his team. I said yeah why not I am keen to try new things," Aliir said.
"I arrived at training and the coach asked me if I had played before. I told him no; I’ve never even seen the game played. He then told me the position I would play and I just laughed as I had no idea about positions or the rules".
"I hadn’t been playing long and I was selected for the World XVIII team to compete at the Under 16 national championships in Perth. I think we only won one game that tournament, coming up against kids who’d been playing since they were very young. It was a huge challenge but that experience was one of the highlights of my football journey".
It was during this trip Aliir discovered his sister, who was living in Perth, had been trying to find him. This led to his mother, brothers and sisters moving to Perth to reunite with other family members.
"After missing out on being drafted the first time I remember thinking I didn’t want to play football anymore and I’d just return to Perth to be with the family and get a job. My brother said to me "just give footy one more go, if you don’t get drafted next year then do whatever you want to do". He had that belief in me and so I decided to keep playing".
In 2013 Aliir was drafted into the Sydney Swans.
"When draft night came I was sitting with my brother and when they called my number as the pick, my brother jumped on me and started hugging me and saying "you’re going to the Swans!" My mum was so emotional she said "this is what your dad said you were going to do". It was a very special moment that I will keep close to my heart," Aliir said.
Aliir has been with the Swans for four years now sharing his talent and love of the game with the local Sydney football community and the wider AFL community.
Aliir had one message he wanted to share with other Australians.
"People don’t really understand why Refugees leave their countries. For us we had no choice, our home was unsafe and my family wanted a better life for us. We wanted to live a life free of fear. We were very lucky to receive support from such a great country. I am grateful to call Australia home," Aliir said.
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