Refugees are overcoming the agony of leaving their home and families behind and are making successful new lives in Brisbane.
More than 1200 refugees arrive in Brisbane each year, in search of a new life away from the horrors of their native home. Many of them don’t speak English, have never laid eyes on the technology we take for granted and, more often than not, are nursing the pain of leaving loved ones far behind.
But, despite many obstacles stacked before them, there are refugees in Brisbane who are excelling in their professions, raising families and volunteering their time to support others. These days, Marsden-based engineer and father-of-two Rajuba Rashie, 30, spends his down time playing a round of golf or taking his family to the Sunshine Coast, which is a far cry from his early life in the African country of Burundi.
Rashie and his family fled Africa in 1998. “My mother, father, my five sisters and my four brothers were all forced to leave Burundi because of the ethnic conflict that was going on. We were in a refugee camp in Tanzania for six years before we left for Australia. At the time we didn’t even know where we were going, we were just allocated a country,” he says. At first he was based in Sydney.
“It was difficult because we didn’t speak English and it was hard to adjust to a big city like Sydney after being in the camp.”
Rashie visited Brisbane in 2006 and liked the city so much that he decided to make it home in 2007 where he earned his Environmental Engineering degree from Griffith University. He now devotes his non-work time to the Association of Burundian Community of Queensland, helping other refugees assimilate to Australian life and young people with their education. He also is a keen volunteer for Engineers Without Borders and, in the future, he plans to travel to developing countries to provide engineering support.
Rashie is an enthusiastic supporter of World Refugee Day. “I always attend World Refugee Day events because it gives you a chance to engage with all the different people who make up this country,” he says.
While World Refugee Day is officially on 20 June this year, events have included a lantern parade and football tournaments earlier this month and there will be a Community Festival on 23 June at Annerley Soccer Club Fields.
The Multicultural Development Association (MDA) is charged with settling all refugees who come to live in Brisbane, from meeting them at the airport to providing housing for up to six months. It also provides “life skills orientation” teaching refugees about Australian customs, how the education and justice systems work and how to do things like use an ATM.
“The biggest barrier for them is learning the language and everybody’s situation is different. Some people have an English speaking background and some people learn it as a second, third or fourth language. Many of them have also experienced torture, severe trauma or the death of family members and they need time to recover,” says MDA CEO Kerrin Benson.
The MDA also helps refugees find long-term housing and jobs but can be a challenge, says Benson. “It’s a leap of faith for real estate agents but feedback [tells us] the people we place are good tenants. It’s the same with employers; right now 22 per cent of our clients are working but it can be hard for them to get that first job. Recently an employer said they had better retention rates with their refugee employees so they decided to invest in some English language courses to further support their start.”
Fahim Hashim arrived in Australia in 2011 after he was forced to abandon his life in Afghanistan amid bomb blasts near his home which put his life in constant danger. He travelled alone from Afghanistan to Pakistan, Dubai, Malaysia and then stayed in Indonesia for two years while he was interviewed by the United Nations High Commission and then the Australian government before being granted refugee status.
“Unfortunately it is very difficult to come to Australia so my family couldn’t come. I was 18 when I decided to leave but I didn’t have a choice. Every moment in Afghanistan you can lose your life,” he says.
Hashim now works at Bric Housing, a not-for-profit company that manages tenancies and housing for refugees and others. He also works at Mater Hospital assisting refugees who require health care. He volunteers with the Queensland Program of Assistance to Survivors of Torture and Trauma organising support forums and sharing his story.
“I tell people about my life because we all deserve the same thing. It’s important to know where we have come from and I believe it helps my community.”