17 July 2017
Freedom celebrated
Picture: Jocelyn Nickels
As published in The Border Watch.
Written by Jocelyn Nickels.

Karenni refugees mark 10 years in region with community event

Ten years ago, a great leap of faith was taken by two Karen families as they made the frightening move to Mount Gambier to escape the terrifying war raging in their home country of Burma.

Living in Thailand refugee camps for many years, the families were given the great opportunity to start a new life in Mount Gambier, becoming the first refugees to settle in the Blue Lake city.

Since then, many more Karen and Congolese refugees have followed in their footsteps, creating a new community of their own to support and encourage each other.

This weekend their brave and inspiring journey to freedom will be celebrated in an event open to the whole city.

Mount Gambier Migrant Resource Centre manager Anelia Blackie has worked closely with a plethora of  refugee families over the years and is proud of how Mount Gambier has embraced the new arrivals.

“Mount Gambier is considered to be one of the most successful settlement areas in Australia, which is really a credit to the community because people have really accepted them and given them opportunities,” she said.

“The people here are extremely kind to them, they just give.”

Around 12 years ago a need was identified for labourers in the region with a lack of Australians available to fill positions.

“A request was made to the government to bring refugees into Mount Gambier to fill those positions and that is how they came to be here,” Ms Blackie said.

“They are fantastic laborers, they can put anything in the ground and it just grows.”

Both the Karen and Congolese community members have taken themselves outside of their comfort zones and embraced the opportunities to become a part of the wider community.

“They have made a great contribution by filling up sports clubs and classrooms, which means further jobs are created for teachers,” Ms Blackie said.

“They also introduced us to a culture that we were never aware of and a new type of food.” However, for Ms Blackie the thing she has learnt the most from the new arrivals is their strong sense of community.

“They stick together, if there is a problem or situation and someone needs help they are there to support each other,” she said.

“In the villages and in the camps they would come together and decide who plants what and then they would share – they are very giving people.

“When they socialise they get together with everyone they know in their house, the furniture is pushed aside and they sit on the floor and eat and sing.”

On Saturday night, a celebration will be held at the Mount Gambier North Primary School for the whole community.

This will include a traditional dance performance, a question and answer session with two Karen refugees and a display of photographs and artwork created by older refugees.

It will also be the launch of Refugee Week with the art and photographs moved to the Main Corner the next day to remain on display to the public from Monday to Saturday.

The event on Saturday night is free of charge and will take place from 6pm.

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