I feel confident in assuming that many of you reading this newsletter are not ethnocentric, and possess the capacity to critically analyse what the media feeds us.
Some people, however, become victims of the media’s manipulative and biased information.
This, combined with other socialisation factors consolidates strong stereotypes of asylum seekers, migrants and refugees. This stereotype is something along the lines of ‘queue jumpers’, ‘dole bludgers’, ‘taking all our Centrelink’, ‘criminals’ or even ‘terrorists.’ These stereotypes are uneducated and wrong, and escalate a sense of fear that consequentially pervades society.
I do not know whether to feel angry or sorry for people when I hear them say ‘get out of my country’ or ‘I can’t understand you, speak English.’
I feel sorry for them because most likely they haven’t been taught anything different than the stereotype, and I feel angry because to me, the stereotype is so obviously wrong, that it is baffling so many people can be fooled by it.
What is the solution?
Like everything, it begins with education.
Thus, this article will focus on a few individuals, each of whom have made their way to Australia one way or another, who are the ‘stereotype’, but have defied the odds, the stigma and the trauma to succeed in their own unique ways.
Success may mean fame, making a contribution to society, or simply making a home for themselves in such a difficult environment.
These individuals are fundamental in diminishing the stereotype that exists in society, and elucidating the brilliant and wonderful people that this country can potentially call its own.
Ahn Do’s resilience
Ahn Do is the Australian pinnacle of a famous refugee success story.
He and his family sought asylum in Australia as refugees in 1980, fleeing from the devastating effects of the Vietnam War. They survived five days in a leaking boat, two different life-threatening pirate attacks, and then several months in a Malaysian refugee camp.
Today Ahn Do is an awe-inspiring author, comedian and actor. He studied a combined Business Law degree at the University of Technology, and has since featured on TV shows such as Thank God You’re Here, Good News Week and Dancing With The Stars. He has directed movies and starred in movies.
A defining feature of his fame, however, is his award winning autobiography ‘The Happiest Refugee’ which was named the 2011 Australian Book of the Year.
He has also published several children’s books, which tell his story to a younger demographic.
Ahn Do also tells his story through his comedy. I was very lucky to see him performing once, and it was a perfect balance of humour and an inspiring realisation at what this man has accomplished in his life.
It is what I would call an education, and every person in society would benefit from hearing his story.
It is individuals like Ahn Do who are breaking down the societal barriers for refugees and asylum seekers in Australia. He has a high positive profile in the media, featuring in a Sydney Morning Herald article, ‘Profile: Ahn Do’ in 2011, which proudly exhibits his success story to the public.
With the media on his side, Ahn Do has without a doubt been transformative in people’s perceptions of asylum seekers and refugees but there is still a long way to go.
Huy Truong’s success
Huy Truong, like Ahn Do, was one of 40 Vietnamese people that crowded on a boat and tried three times to cross the tropical, dangerous water separating Australia and Vietnam.
Aged seven, he and his family fled their country in 1978 due to fear of government’s persecution. Although the Vietnam War had ended, his family’s status would see all their assets, including their home, claimed by the government.
They pretended to be fishermen and risked the dangerous journey in order to save everything they owned.
Huy Truong, however, does not stand in the same limelight as Ahn Do, but has nonetheless achieved incredible financial success.
In an article titled ‘We came by boat: How refugees changed Australian business’,The Financial Review, describes how Truong, among other migrants, dominate BRW’s rich 200 list. Truong, with his family, established the gifting website wishlist.com.au and after selling it to Qantas, he is now a private equity investor. Truong was quoted saying,
To the extent that people are landing on our shores, in the same way as people are lining up outside the borders of other jurisdictions around the world, then we should do our best to embrace, settle, integrate and provide them with a safe environment in the way that our family was.”
Between 2000 and 2010, Australia’s labour force participation rate rose to 65.9% from 63.1%, almost solely from migrants. There is no doubt about the benefits that these people are having on our economy. But economic interests are just one justification.
As stated in Article 3 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person; this should be the paramount priority.
Name was change for confidentiality.
As mentioned earlier, not all refugee success stories result in fame. There are many individuals that in their own right have found ‘success.’
In a project initiated by Dr Rosemary Suliman, a senior lecturer at the University of Western Sydney, six students from the university, all refugees, were interviewed about their story and experiences.
Rima’s story stood out from the others.
Rima was born in Afghanistan and arrived in Australia in 2005. When she was eight, the mujahideen took control of her village. Her family and her fled by bus, foot and horseback to Jalalabad, Turkham, the Pakistani border, Peshawar state in Pakistan then finally to Islamabad.
In her interview she recalls, when she was only seven, being yelled at by soldiers to wear her scarf or she will be shot. Only when her family fled to Pakistan could she continue her schooling, ,She did
very well at school, but could never go to university because she wasn’t a Pakistani citizen.
She managed however to secure a job as a visa officer at the Australian High Commission in Pakistan, which she was very proud of, and through that job found a connection to come to Australia.
Since coming here in 2005, she went to TAFE in Blacktown and then eventually to the University of Western Sydney, where she is now, studying a business management degree. She is also working in a publishing company.
This is just as great a success story as any other. Rima is another example of how, given the chance, refugees could make a great contribution to the Australian society.
Bella Worner Butcher