What It’s Actually Like To Be A Refugee In Australia

The guys and gals at Samsung have partnered up with the Foundation for Young Australians to create the Propeller Project.
Propeller offers seed funding to/shares the stories of inspirational
young Aussies who are taking action in their local communities and
making them a better place for the rest of us excellent slobs to live
in. If you’re 12 to 25 and want to change the world for the better
simply visit the 
Propeller website to
apply for funding to get a project that has a social or environmental
focus off the ground. Full disclosure: Rarely do we get to work with a
brand or sponsor willing to talk about the issues facing Australians who are yet to still find their voice – so, cheers Samsung.

In 2012-13, a total of 20,019 visas were granted to refugees seeking resettlement in Australia. These people fled from war torn countries, from governments trying to kill them and from fear of being persecuted purely for being who they are.

Despite what some people would have you believe, there’s very little chance asylum seekers are coming here to harm you – because, like, security checks. After going through what can be years or even decades of processing and living in refugee camps with little to no possessions, these 20,000 people have finally been accepted into Australia. But is Australia welcoming them with open arms?

Of the people that eventually receive a visa to resettle in Australia (which, let’s face it, aren’t many in the grand scheme of things), what happens to them? According to the Refugee Council, more than 800,000 people have been resettled in Australia since Federation. These people have become well established and in a lot of cases are flourishing within Australian businesses, government, the arts, sport and education. Not bad for people that fled persecution, often only with the clothes on their back and having no clue where the hell they were going to end up – or even if they would survive.

Still, it would obviously be quite the shock, and not just culturally.

Think about it, it’s like your first day of preschool (only no one was trying to kill you). You don’t know anyone, there are at least some people that look different to you and barely anyone knows how to speak your language. All you’ve got is a packed lunch, the remnants of your mum’s lipstick on your forehead and a promise that you’ll meet up again sometime. There are tears, you feel all alone and you just want to GTFO of there and go nestle in your bed where it’s warm and safe.

For them, being accepted isn’t as easy as being offered a half-eaten sandwich from a snot-nosed kid called Britty-nee.

A spokesperson from the Centre for Multicultural Youth in Victoria said in a statement: “Young people of migrant and refugee backgrounds can encounter significant barriers as they try to settle in Australia. Alongside the challenges of growing up, they are figuring out how things are done and adjusting to unfamiliar cultural, academic and social expectations. Their sense of wellbeing and belonging can also be considerably diminished by factors such as racism and discrimination. These issues can definitely have an impact on young people’s mental health. In addition to the challenges that come with settling into a new country, many refugee young people have experienced and witnessed high levels of traumatic events and violence. As a result, they often experience grief, loss and culture shock.”

Aside from offering them a Vegemite sandwich, the best way to make someone feel at home is to make them feel like they are a part of the community. Y’know, give them that real community spirit feel. And young Aussies are taking it upon themselves to help make the transitioning process a hell of a lot easier.

Sadock is one of those young people. He spent most of his childhood living in a refugee camp in Tanzania before finally settling in Australia with his family. At first, he had a hard time fitting in. He told us that not having strong enough language skills to communicate with people tended to push them away and when he arrived, he noticed that some people were avoiding him. But he didn’t let that get him down. “The longer you live here the more you start learning ways to make yourself happy and then everyone else joins the ride,” he said.

One of the things that made him happiest was dancing. So, along with a mate, he decided to share his mad skillz and bring kids of all backgrounds together to give them somewhere to belong: 

And then there’s Marziya; she and her family came to Australia from Afghanistan in 2006, but it’s taken them years to feel like they were a part of the community. Marziya and her little brother could speak English but it was their mum who was having a hard time. She was completely dependent on her kids to be the translators – and what mum wants to rely on her offspring to go grocery shopping or to go to the doctor?

Her confidence took a massive hit and she basically became housebound – too worried about tackling the outside world that she couldn’t understand. So, to lift her mum’s spirits, Marziya and her friends got together to develop The English Tea Program, an informal language lesson for recently arrived refugees revolving around tea, chocolate and learning words like ‘spoon’:

After 15 years of being displaced, Mayor Chagai finally arrived in Australia as a refugee in February 2006. His journey began way back in 1991, though, when he and his family left South Sudan and spent a good two and a half months walking across the border into Ethiopia. Then from Ethiopia they migrated to a refugee camp in Kenya before moving on again to Nairobi two years later. Eventually, they were given the A-OK to call Western Sydney home, but it wasn’t always a smooth ride being a young refugee.

When we spoke to Mayor he told us: “When I first arrived, it was not as easy as I thought it would be. Everything was different. When you’re a new person, you just don’t know where to go. So you just stay around.”

He continued: “The issue is, as a young person, when you arrive you wanted to go out
and fit in with what other people do, especially in sport. I’d been in sport in Kenya and that’s something that I did most of
the time, just go out and play basketball but here getting out and going to
play with people, it wasn’t easy. There were a lot of differences, sometimes you don’t feel welcome and some areas that you wanted to go
join teams were not readily available for any new person, so you don’t know how to get into those teams.”


He ended up meeting up with some mates he knew from his days back in Kenya and found that they were all facing a similar situation and not being accepted: “I realised quickly as well they were finding it very difficult. We just seemed to be in a similar situation and we couldn’t fit in as a team trying to go play basketball. Some people didn’t have work and there was a lot of being bullied and different communities having fights and things like that with different backgrounds. There were a lot of issues in 2007, but after that we quickly decided that we’d do something for ourselves and that’s when we made up a team for ourselves.”

From that one team – the South Stars – the South Sudanese Australian National Basketball Association (SSA NBA) was eventually born, which Mayor is now the CEO of. They’ve just announced their 2014 National Summer Slam Tournament, which features 39 teams from across the country.

Of the positive effects the program has, he said, “It brings people together, [non-Sudanese] coaches are becoming mentors to some players
and supporting them and this never used to
happen. Also, people are trying to stay away from problems,
especially from violence. They want to keep themselves
safe because they can see the potential in basketball. No one wants to get
in trouble with the police because the police see something good and then become friendly, especially the
officers that come to the tournament.” 

And overall? “The tournament has opened up so
many things that people are scared of,” thinks Mayor. He finished by saying: “The kids from African
backgrounds were scared of different things and
then now they’ve become more confident and more relaxed and the
community as well is starting to have more exposure.”

It’s easy. Just don’t be a jerk. If you see someone struggling – whether it be with the language or just fitting in – say hello and just take it from there. Remember, your life up until this point has probably been a walk in the park compared to theirs and they’re just here to try to make it better. Interact with people of different cultures and backgrounds, help build up their confidence and make them feel like Australia cares.

If you want to do more than just being a bloody good bloke, the Refugee Council of Australia or the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre are great places to start. They have up to date info on what’s going on with the whole asylum seeker policy sitch and they’ve got a number of different ways you can get involved and help out. If you’ve got a handle on your English, you can sign up to be a tutor for programs like SAIL who help new refugees work on their language skills. And, if you’re in Melbourne, the Centre for Multicultural Youth has some great programs you can volunteer for like Ucan2 where you basically just become someone’s BFF.

Because, at the end of the day, everyone just wants to have a friend.