She has rhythm in her soul. And the Australians love her. Angelique Kidjo, the Benin-born leading exponent of world music, is in South Australia to inspire and entertain her audiences with beautiful songs and dances. Her majestic voice will be heard, loud and clear, in Governor Hindmarsh Hotel tonight.
The Australians demand justice and freedom for refugees. About 500 refugee advocates from all over the country have converged on the notorious Baxter Detention Centre in South Australia to protest the continued incarceration of the stateless people.
Behind the razor wire are over 320 detainees.
There were chants of “Open the border, close the camps, and free the refugees”, during the Easter weekend non-violent protest. And six activists have already been arrested.
The refugee activists in South Australia have staged an angry protest rally outside the home of the federal Immigration Minister, Senator Amanda Vanstone; demonstrating against what they described as “Cruel and inhumane” treatment of asylum-seekers and refugees in detention.
“It’s about telling Amanda Vanstone that her policies are causing immeasurable pain and suffering to huge groups of innocent people”, so says Tim Petterson, the Refugee Action Collective spokesman, during the rally.
The pragmatic shift in Australia’s refugee policy has led to the establishment of a new visa category for the long-term stateless refugees. The new commonwealth government initiative allows asylum-seekers who have given up the fight to stay in Australia to live freely in the community until they can be deported.
Nevertheless, there is a sting in the detail of policy, so to speak. Asylum-seekers will be expected to sign contracts, report monthly to immigration officials, and cease all legal action against the federal government.
But the new visa category for the poor and the stateless elements has been met with utmost skepticism by the refugee activists who argue, quite convincingly, that the refugees are being forced to sign away their last hope of remaining in Australia.
A significant policy shift is in the offing, as Australia prepares to release asylum-seekers from behind the razor wire.
The new sensibility in refugee policy is welcome news to long-term stateless refugees such as Peter Qasim who has been in the immigration detention centre for seven years and who has become the subject of intense lobbying by refugee advocates throughout the land.
Under the new dispensation, the stateless detainees will win temporary freedom and will be eligible for welfare entitlements, until they can be deported to their “country of origin”; wherever that may be.
Compassion is in the air. The futures of the 120 refugees and asylum seekers in detention in Australia for more than three years are to be considered by the Federal cabinet. The Prime Minister, John Howard, categorically denied that the attempt to review the controversial mandatory detention laws has anything to do with the recent conversion of 30 long-term detainees to Christianity, as the critics of government policy argue.
Harmony is virtue. Australia celebrates Harmony Day on the 21st of March every year to coincide with the United Nations International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Harmony Day is a multicultural event that is celebrated nationally in Australia by all kinds of organizations and groups. Fun activities include community festivals, displays, arts & crafts, music, dance, workshop and food from many cultures.
“We are united through our commitment to our nation, supporting the goal of Australia as a fair and decent society”, says Peter McGauran, Minister for Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs. “Australia is one of the most successful multicultural nations in the world because we have active policies and programs to ensure that cultural diversity is a unifying force for our country”.
The Africans in Australia are committed to living in harmony with other Australians. And Harmony Day is a unique opportunity for all to participate in the celebration of cultural diversity and say “No” to racism and racial discrimination.
Gai Kur Akuei, 28, is a Sudanese refugee in his prime of life who is determined to start a new life in Australia, after fleeing the civil war that has ravaged his beloved country. But the road to the promised land is not for the faint-hearted, so to speak.
“I spent 12 years of my life in the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya”, Gai said. “But just when I had almost given up hope, I met a beautiful girl, fell madly in love, and got married to her in the camp”.
Gai is a young man in hurry. Since his arrival in Australia a few months ago, he has been seriously looking for work, and learning to drive for the first time; as well as studying English as a third language.
He has also been sharpening his literacy and numeracy skills in preparation for further education and training, which may eventually lead to a career as a community health worker - something that he really wants to do.
“I’m enjoying myself in South Australia, so far”, he says; flashing his white teeth. “My wife likes it here and the children are very happy”.
Gai has four children and his wife, Nyanthuc Alier, is expecting a brand new baby; their fifth child. He is the sole bread winner and a good father.
“I’m still trying to find my way around…being new to the place”, Gai says. “Still struggling to pay the rent and feed my family”.
Gai is not alone! In fact, for most refugees, life is a constant struggle for survival; even in the land of plenty.
But, what does the future hold? As far as Gai is concerned, getting a good job and regular income could mean saying good bye to boredom and uncertainty and hello to peace of mind and security.
African refugees continue to flee the civil war, poverty and persecution in such countries as Burundi, Rwanda, and Sudan. A case in point is Patrick Ntarkiruti, who has found a new home in Australia after spending eight years in a Tanzanian refugee camp. He arrived in Adelaide with his wife and five children, four of whom were born in the refugee camp.
Patrick’s family is part of the group of 64 refugees from Africa who are lucky enough to call Australia home.
“I wanted to live a new life”, said Patrick. “I am very, very happy to live in Australia”. This sentiment is shared by the overwhelming majority of the new arrivals.
A group of 64 refugees, including 36 children, from Central Africa will arrive in South Australia today. And the representatives of African community will be at the Adelaide airport to welcome them. The Immigration Minister, Amanda Vanstone, said the refugees will receive cultural support and other forms of help; linking them to services such as Social Security payments, Medicare, banking, and accommodation support
Hats off to Sheela Langeberg, the multitalented Tanzanian-born internationally renowned playwright and performer, for her ongoing success with audiences throughout Australia. Sheela will present performances and workshops around Australia; including shows in Mildura and Port Augusta. And has some major projects and country tours throughout 2005.
She came. She saw. And conquered. Yenenesh Gebre, 55, who fled Ethiopia with her three young sons in 1992 after her husband was killed, is this year’s winner of the prestigious Irene Krastev Award for her significant contribution to community life in Australia.
Her achievement is even more remarkable given the fact that she didn’t speak a word of English when she first arrived Australia. She started learning the language from the scratch. But the language struggle inspired her to help others.
“Because of my experience, I promised myself to help other refugees”, she said, with a beautiful smile.
Now, she is the true believer in the power of language and the written word, as an effective weapon against boredom and culture shock.
African refugees in Australia are gradually coming to terms with the demands and challenges of the post-industrial society, through the revival of learning. They are acquiring new and relevant skills as never before. A significant number have increased their life chances, and the range of employment opportunities open to them by embracing technical and further education; focusing on the vocationally-oriented studies at all levels.
This is an exciting new development and the way forward for those refugees who are trying to make a new life in Australia, and who had long been traumatized by memories of war, famine and poverty in their countries of origin.
Now, they have made a deliberate decision not only to improve themselves in the best possible way, but also to make a positive contribution to the Australian society.
In deed, there are stories of African refugees from such countries as the Sudan, Liberia, Sierra Leone, Ethiopia, Somali, and Gambia doing all kinds of menial work, studying English as a second or third language, adapting to the Australian way of life; developing literacy and numeracy skills in preparation for better jobs in future.
And more importantly, those refugees who hadn’t been to the university before are now seriously considering that possibility; having been given a second chance. Thanks to the “FEE-HELP” program, a new loans scheme for undergraduates, recently introduced by the Federal Government - an important equity measure, to say the least.
Refugees continue to flee the never-ending crisis, war, famine, and poverty in the heart of Africa. Meanwhile, more than 200 children from Central Africa are scheduled to arrive Australia in the next two weeks, to start a new life.
The African women in South Australia, in association with the Refugee Women’s Network, are organizing a “multicultural lunch” to celebrate this year’s International women’s Day. The Sudanese, Somali, and Liberian women will talk about their refugee experiences and the challenges they face as women in a new society.
Melanie Kutek’s creative mind is programmed to help those in need. And her work has given her a new perspective on life. In fact, when she is not busy helping to resettle the growing number of African refugees in her home state of South Australia, she is doing voluntary work in Kenya; teaching and working with street kids - giving them an opportunity for a new life.
“I was volunteering as a teacher at a primary school in Ruiru (just north of Nairobi) in Kenya and also did voluntary work at a Rehabilitation Centre for street children”, Melanie said, with a broad smile. (she is affectionately referred to as Mel.)
“But every weekend, and whenever I had some spare time, I would go and meet the Sudanese families in Buru Buru and Komarock (refugee camps)”.
Mel’s humanitarian impulse knows no bounds. Come to think of it, she has taken cross-cultural communication and creative exchange onto a whole new level. And the sky is the limit!
Soon after returning from Kenya a few days ago, it became exceedingly clear that, at the tender age of 21, Mel has enough charitable projects in mind to last a lifetime.
Thus, “through some organizations in Adelaide, Kiwanis and WEF”, she has managed to achieve what others can only dream of. “I have managed to sponsor about 9 Sudanese children to attend primary school in Kenya”, she revealed.
The sponsorship covers such things as uniforms, shoes, exercise books, desks, living allowances and administrative fees. Yet, in a very special way, Mel is still trying to do more to help a growing number of other children in similar positions of need - a cause dear to her heart.
“While I was there (in Kenya), I also started a charitable organization, an NGO, which I have called Panhom. Our mission is to work towards education for all Southern Sudanese children”, she said.
“We will be starting with a school and a teacher training centre in the area of Aweil. And then as we get more funding, we hope to extend the project to cover the whole of Southern Sudan”. This is one of Mel’s biggest accomplishments.
Indeed, Mel is, undoubtedly, a very special kind of girl. And her spirit of generosity is immense. She is passionate about peace and freedom; always thinking about the plight of the poor, the refugees and the orphans; and, of course, the fate of the sick and the homeless.
Mel’s star is rising. And helping others to help themselves has become her lifetime commitment. She is a girl on a mission, with hope and charity running through her veins.
As the Womadelaide festival of world music begins in South Australia this week, African artistes are lining up to showcase their work. And just to spice things up a little bit, Daara J, the Senegalese group which is making its Australian debut, wants to mix contemporary raps with the African tribal rhythms; introducing the Adelaide audience to the true history of rap and hip-hop music.
“We are going to make an exhibit of the ancient forms of rap that existed in Africa, even before slavery”, said rapper Abdou Seck (also known as MC Faada Freddy).
In fact, thinking about the real roots of rap is a great deal of excitement in its own right. And the Australian audience can’t wait for the fun to begin.