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What should Australians know about refugees

05 June 2019

Last month, six students from Catholic schools in Melbourne spent a week at the Australian Catholics offices, planning and writing articles as guest editors of the Spring edition.

As part of the experience, the students recorded a podcast interview with Agum from the Jesuit Social Services Just Voices Speakers Program. Agum arrived in Australia in 2008, after fleeing from Sudan as a refugee when she was a child.

Agum shared her story with the students, speaking about her life before the war, her experiences as a refugee in Uganda, and how she came to settle into a new life here in Australia. In the excerpt below, she shares with them what it was like to settle into a new country and school. The full podcast interview will be uploaded in August in conjunction with the Spring edition.

Q: Can you tell us about your journey to Australia and what it was like?

When I got to Uganda, I stayed there with my mum, and then I got sponsored by a relative – a cousin of mine. He did an application, like, to a family reunion application for his mother and himself, and that’s when I got lucky to be added into the application.

We've tried before to apply to get a residency or to seek asylum here. It didn’t work, we got rejected several times.

We got accepted. It was a huge surprise. Then it actually hit me, I was like, wow, I'm actually going to leave my family, I'm not going to come with them. I think I had like a panic attack for hours or days, where I was just, like, where is this place? I didn't know anything about Australia.

We got in the plane and it was very scary, the first hours. We couldn’t sleep with my other cousins who constantly were talking about how weird it is to be in there, but, yes, we came and we got into a very nice community, people were really nice. Our neighbours, we were welcomed really well.

Q: What were some of your main challenges that you faced in the early days of living in Australia?

I think I just felt different… I felt like I didn’t fit in. I didn't know the language properly. I didn't know English at all.

We stayed at Armidale in New South Wales. There weren’t a lot of African families there, and every time we would go out people would stare at us. I remember the local newspaper came to the house we lived in. I think that alone was just, like, ‘Wow, just to have another family in the community is really special for them to come out and actually do a story on us.’

I struggled with school because I did meet some bad kids… They were mean to us, and because we didn't know the language they would laugh at us.

I remember one day I went to one of the guys who was, like, a mean boy to us, and I said, ‘If you knew the language properly why would you be in my class?’ I think it's a very silly thing to say, but I was just, like, this is your first language, this is my second language, in fact, it's almost like my third. So you should stop laughing at us when the teacher asks us and then we don’t say things properly because we didn't know the language.

But, again, I think they just didn't know better. I mean, they're just kids anyway.

Q: Do you believe that there is a lot of racism in Australia or do you feel like people have tried their best to welcome you?

It's a very balanced thing... I mean, to be honest, I think I've received more love than hate.

I've had people who’ve said racist stuff, but I've also had some people that done some amazing things in my life here. I mean, even just in my own country you can find some bad people, and I can say it's different.

It's different in a way, like, say, for example, when I meet people on the street, people are most likely to be OK with me and be nice, but because in this world now there's so much that happens. The digital world really changed humans in general. I feel like most of the time people are actually okay with me in real life, but when they get online, and after this whole African gang situation, people have got horrible things to say about us.

This is where I sometimes think that do the people that I meet on the street, are they really genuine? Do they have all these thoughts in their minds, but are scared to express them? That makes things a little bit difficult to say, but I've got a lot of love and I think that’s the only thing that I can give back to those that show it to me as well. 

Q: What do you think people from Australia should know about Sudanese people?

Many people came here with the intention to be better and to have better lives. It’s one thing that parents are struggling with is just the culture because they don’t have the power. Power here is different, and so many families are struggling to raise this generation up peacefully. People need to know that the South Sudanese community is working, and families are working hard to make sure that young ones, or the new generation don’t paint a bad image of us because there's so many of us here with dreams and goals. We want to make this country, well, it's our home, so why wreck something that belongs to you? I think people need to understand that this is our home too. It does make it hard to be seen as an outcast because sometimes that’s how I feel.

It worries me for my kids, like, if people think that our Sudanese are gangs. What might happen to my boys when they grow up? I don't want to be worried again about the safety of my children, because if that happens here then it's exactly how my mum was feeling.

Make sure you check out the Spring edition of Australian Catholics magazine for more articles from our young editors.  

Click here to learn more about the Just Voices Speakers Program for your school.

Or the Jesuit Refugee Services' refugeee voices program.

Image: Agum speaks with the Australian Catholics students.

 

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