I was born in Sudan but am Ethiopian. My parents migrated to Sudan in the 1980s. I am from a family of six – four sisters and one brother. (I also have two brothers and one sister from my father’s side.) I am 26 years old and came to New Zealand as a refugee when I was 12 years old with my mother, one older brother and two younger sisters.
We had to leave our country because of political issues: my father was a politician. He was the leader of a party that fought for freedom and human rights. Unfortunately, my father was the leader of the party and he was the first person to be kidnapped by the government in 1992 in Sudan followed by four other political leaders.
The Sudanese government illegally transferred Ethiopian political refugees to the Ethiopian Government, with whom they had an agreement. We couldn’t live safely in Ethiopia, nor could we stay in Sudan because it was unsafe for us. My mother asked the UN for refugee status and we were fortunate to be accepted. We were moved by the UN to a refugee camp in Sudan for six months.
Life in the camp was very hard, especially when the rain and wind came because the accommodation was of a poor standard. We lived there for 6 months until the New Zealand government accepted my family. We then stayed at the Mangere Centre for six weeks before we made a home in Onehunga.
I started my formal education at high school level, even though I had no previous education. My brother did though help us to learn some English when we arrived in New Zealand and also I had a home tutor who helped me to read and write. I am now finishing my Bachelor in Social Practice in June 2016 and have a diploma in mental health.
Adive From Lily
Q) As we are currently receiving refugees from Syria is there any advice you could give to those who want to be helpful to them so that they can settle in to a community, considering they are most likely to have experienced personal trauma?
Welcome them with a smile and make them feel included.
Make them feel New Zealand is their home. It is important that they are connected to services that they can get support from and showing them they are respected as a person.
Sport and healthy activity are important things in NZ. Muslim women at home in Syria will have a lot of women’s only facilities such as swimming pools, gyms, tennis clubs etc as men and women are separate in public.
But in New Zealand we mostly have mixed sex facilities: You can help new arrivals by letting them know there is a Ladies Night at the Mt Albert Pool in
Auckland for example which is subsidised and offers free Muslim women’s swimming lessons at Cameron Pool.
Q) You have been a refugee. How did you and your family cope with being so far away from Ethiopia with little chance of going back?
It was hard at the beginning to cope in a new country – new culture, different faces, new area, and a different environment are big adjustments. The first day at school is very challenging and a struggle when you know that you don’t have friend to hang around with or you don’t know what the teachers, students are expecting from you.
And loneliness is a problem for women who are isolated at home bringing up children – especially when they don’t know the language of the country.
Q) What do you think is the key problem that refugee youth face when they come to live in a new country other than learning English?
The key problem is to adopt the cultural environment and feel included in all of that. The fear others have of different ethnicities, skin colour and accent is noticeable.
This was at times played out as school ground bullying. In addition, most refugee youth face unemployment (more than other youth) and this is a real problem.
You can read the rest of the March edition of the Turangawaewae newsletter here.