Torture family seeking sanctuary
ALAA Al-Fatlawee has seen and experienced more tragedy and pain in his life than anyone should.
But he has not let it dampen his spirit.
The refugee from the Middle East was all smiles when he and his family visited the Coast for an end of year family picnic at Mooloolaba hosted by local community support groups.
He said it was a joy to spend time near the beach, meet new people and celebrate being free of his old country.
"After what I faced in my own country, I am the luckiest person in the world to be living in Australia," he said.
"I never want my kids to face what I have."
The 34-year-old Iraqi man and his family have been in Australia since 2009 and are waiting to find out whether they will be granted a protection visa.
He said if his application to stay in Australia was denied he would be executed upon his return to the Middle East.
"Our (old) government sees you as a traitor or spy for my applying for a protection visa," Alaa said.
"I just can't think about what would happen if I don't get it."
The father-of-two said in 2006 he was kidnapped by al Qaeda and tortured for 17 days.
"They burned me with fire," he said.
Alaa who has severe scarring on his arms nearly lost his hand due to the injuries he sustained.
"I was also repeatedly hit in the face by pieces of wood," he said.
"It was a horrible experience, one I would never want anyone else to experience."
Alaa's wife Shaymaa, and sons, Siraj, 3, and Mobasher, 1, are in Australia but the rest of his family is still in the Middle East.
One woman who can relate to fleeing a war torn country is former Maroochydore deputy mayor and now Division 7 candidate, Zrinka Johnston.
She said as a child her family escaped Croatia with false passports.
"It was a risky thing to race across the border to get away," she said.
Ms Johnston said if she were to get elected she would push for council to pick up the Refugee Welcome Zone initiative.
"When you hear some of their stories, your heart just melts.
"Council could help stem the outflow of people. It is a humanitarian exercise with economic usefulness," she said.