As a young 13 year old Karen girl living in a small village in Burma, Naw Pi knew that when the Burmese soldiers came with their guns, she and her seven siblings had to run away as fast as they could, escaping to the dark safety of the jungle. Her parents had taught them how to do this from an early age. They knew they had to drop everything and scatter quickly in different directions, away from their family home, away from the soldiers with the guns.
One day her village was totally devastated and Naw Pi was forced to flee from her home, not knowing if her parents were alive or dead. Rebel soldiers led her to safety through the jungle to the Thai Burmese border region. Eventually she married a wonderful man and had four children, but they would spend 16 years waiting in a refugee camp before being accepted as refugees by Australia.
Naw Pi (or Beauty as she has chosen to be called in Australia) works at the Hyatt Regency in Perth and loves her job. Her four children are all working or studying and are thrilled to call Australia home.
“We are grateful for the opportunities this country has provided us and want to keep working to improve ourselves” says Lovely, Naw Pi’s daughter.
Kachuol Piok, or Piok as his friends in Australia call him, is a man with a gentle soul, who hides the scars of his childhood and the challenges of his life as a refugee for more than thirteen years behind a welcoming, warm smile.
His journey took him from a peaceful, simple childhood as a Dinka boy in South Sudan caring for his family’s cattle and goats, to fleeing for his life during the 1983 civil war in South Sudan.
“Life was horrible. You just waited for your day to die, because surely your turn must come. There were people dying around me everywhere all the time, every day”
As if these struggles weren’t bad enough Piok got caught up in another aspect of the civil war that was hard to comprehend – he became a child soldier, taken away by the army to an isolated jungle camp with 200 other boys for three years training.
After he escaped he spent many years in different African refugee camps, before being accepted as refugee for re-settlement in Australia through the UNHCR. From simple manual labouring jobs Piok pursued his education with a hunger, thrilled by the joy of learning. He completed TAFE courses, a bridging course for university and after an undergraduate degree went on to complete his Masters degree at Murdoch University with a thesis entitled “Becoming a Refugee is Not a Choice”.
Farid and Fauzia Sufizada
Farid and Fauzia fled from the Taliban in Afghanistan because they were in fear for their lives. Ultimately their story is one of love and resilience. Their circumstances meant that they were separated for seven years in different countries despite both being recognised as refugees by the UNHCR.
Farid came by boat as a refugee, seeking asylum. He was locked in detention before being placed on a temporary protection visa, meaning he could not leave the country or be re-united with his family for five years. Fauzia was stranded in Pakistan with their children, forced into near seclusion by her father-in-law to ensure her safety.
Farid is one of the few refugees who was settled in Australia after being rescued from a sinking wooden boat by the Norwegian freighter Tampa in 2001.
Theirs is a distressing story, but one with a happy ending here in Australia. Since 2009, the couple have lived in Perth with their four children. They work in their own painting and catering businesses and are respected members of their local community.
Recently they visited some of their family who are still living in Afghanistan and were saddened and worried by what they saw in a country still gripped by war and conflict. Farid said:
“Afghanistan is our past. We have a refugee story as well as a history and culture that remains important to us, but we are working hard to build a better future in Australia. This is our home now.”
John Nazary, a Hazara man, fled Afghanistan via Pakistan to Indonesia and came to Australia as a refugee seeking asylum in 1999. The Hazaras have long been a target of Taliban persecution and discrimination which is why he chose to cross mountains, continents and ultimately to finish his journey by getting in a small wooden leaky boat when he couldn’t swim.
Sadly, when John reached Australia he was locked behind barbed wire at the Port Hedland detention centre. He had committed no crime other than to undertake the last leg of his perilous journey in a boat. Because Australia eventually agreed he was a refugee, he was released from detention after a year. Since then he has been an outstanding community leader and contributor in many rural towns around Western Australia.
“Australians sometimes ask me: John how did you become a refugee? I try to explain to them that when armed men arrive at your door threatening to kill you and shouting that they are going to take away your home and your property – there’s not much choice.”
Akec Makur Chuot
Akec’s early childhood memories are of a refugee camp called Kakuma – a Swahili word meaning “nowhere”. Her family were forced to flee from southern Sudan because of fierce fighting in the civil wars. It was not safe for them to stay. She spent the first 12 years of her life in Kakuma, before being accepted into Australia.
“When you are a refugee you spend a lot of time waiting and hoping for a better future. Your choices have been taken away from you.”
Akec – or Susan, to most of her friends in Australia – is now one of Western Australia’s most exciting female AFL players. She is an outstanding role model for young Australians, especially those in the African community.
Paul was born in a poor, rural village in Burma. Through hard work, family support and a scholarship he was the first child in his large family to complete his schooling and go to university where he graduated with a BA in history and pharmacy.
He was always a driven person – wanting to right injustices. He became a key leader in the democracy movement that swept Burma in the 1980s. Following the now infamous 1988 uprising he was forced to flee his country in fear of his life. Paul is from the Karen community – one of the many ethnic minority groups that that has long been persecuted in Burma. He fled to Thailand with his wife and small child where he lived for eight years as a stateless person.
In November 1994, Paul and his family were accepted as refugees by Australia. He is now a proud Australian who works helping other refugees and migrants arriving in the country. His story is one of personal struggle, resilience and survival.