By Ichha Poudyel
It has been over a month since I landed at Adelaide airport in South Australia. The first month remained impressive as expected. I had my ninety six year old grandfather on his wheel chair- the eldest man in Adelaide from Bhutanese Community whom I had accompanied along with. After some 12 hours of flight from Kathmandu to Singapore, and then to Australia, we got exhausted and sleepy. Outside Adelaide airport there were officials from immigration, friends and my elder brother, who arrived several months before, waiting to welcome us. We were taken to Migrant Resource Centre were we were served with some snacks. There, I was happy to see refugees including my fellow-countrymen and migrants from different parts of the world. Refugees are being resettled from Africa, the Middle East and Asia. They do have many stories similar to ours to share.
The same day we were registered at the Centrelink- a government body that provides income support to newly resettled refugees from different countries of the world. The first ever payment I was provided with was the Crisis Payment of Australian dollars 200 on the vary day of my arrival. Then, we were registered at Medicare which covers a most part of medical expanses of refugees. Next, were taken to our new home at Elizabeth. Now we at least have a place to call ‘home’ which we had been longing for.
My new home in Australia is entirely different from the houses I lived in for decades back in Nepal. From a bamboo slum in refugee camp to a concrete building in Kathmandu where I was a tenant for years never belonged to me. My three bed room house at Elizabeth is more than that. Surrounded by brick walls I found heart inside it made up of my family and a sense of possessing it. There was all I needed, from snacks to vegetables and rice. There was a refrigerator, a washing machine and utensils. In a nutshell, there was everything my family required then, as well as, for future.
A dawn of freedom
Often in life we travel through many ups and downs. A moment of happiness makes us forget years of suffering. A pebble in a river gets its shape by continuous crushing and getting rubbed against hard surfaces. In the same way, I have stumbled over many potential obstacles and got sharpened by passing through harsh situation before I finally reached here.
In Adelaide, the third week of June was celebrated as refugee week and the volunteers supporting refugees to resettle in South Australia were well applauded. It made me recall seven years of my volunteer service for my community in Nepal where I worked for news paper and radio. However, my selfless service was eventually rewarded by manhandling me in public at Beldangi I on May 5, 2008 and subsequently threatened to take my life by cadres of Birat-led faction of Communist Party of Bhutan, Marxist-Leninist-Maoist. As a journalist I had to speak up on behalf of fellow refugees who had no voices that made me target of this group and also those earning from forgery. Those days in which my brother had to shield the bamboo wall near his bed with an old wooden plank to avoid possible attracts from fellow refugees is just a memory left behind.
Now I do not have to serve an official or bribe him to get my work done. Warmth of human touch is sensational to blend me meaningfully in the magnificent mixture of South Australian culture. We have freedom from prejudice, conspiracy, nepotism and threats. Flooded by turbulent river for more than a quarter of my life from one bank to the other and through falls and underlying rocks, I am now in calm water free from fear. A dawn of freedom has just begun and I am looking at the eastern sky towards my motherland to brighten for the day so that the faces of my countrymen would curve into smile that is longed for century.
Beginning new life
It was nearly two years ago my family was chosen by Australian Government to settle in its land. Two years of crazy wait in camp has taught me enough patience that I needed most to assimilate easily in Australia. Eventually, we are in the land of our dream. It’s the greatness of the people and the government of Australia that opened door for my bright future.
Australia is a great country to live in. This is a safe heaven for entire mankind. There are playing rooms for children, prayer rooms for people following different religions and walking aid for disabled and senior citizens in most of the offices, hospitals, universities and business houses. Virgin nature brings spring blossom and Australians welcome refugees every year to share its fragrance and to rejoice.
Wild birds are not scared when you go past them. A caravan of deer let you a way through the road like cattle when you go for a trip to the village. People move freely until late night. The Torrens River passing through Adelaide city is clean and calm. At the beaches both man and water birds swim and fish together. The environment is least encroached by human activities. Almost all products we use are made in Australia that makes every Australian a proud resident of this great land.
In Australia what I like most is the government access to the citizens and migrants. There is a government employee to cut grass at your yard. Drinking water is supplied for free. Postal service is so simplified that one would receive letters in a box at the compound of his house, unexpectedly in a very short time.
All financial activities of a humanitarian entrant are done by Centrelink. It also records of all transactions we make including our earning from a job, expanses and saving. The Australian government encourages resettled refugees to work for self reliance while it also provides income supports while working depending on their income and expenditure. Here, one has to enroll in Adult Migrant English Program within three months of arrival. However, if his language skill is of higher standard to the course taught, he doesn’t need to enroll for it.
There is Technical and Further Education which provides technical and job oriented education for certain hours in a week free of cost and some of the world’s best universities.
For now, there is a government house to live in on lease for six months, first month being exempted from housing expenses like electricity, gas and rent. After six months we are expected to vacate this house for a new arrival. However, government assists to look for new one and settle in.
Charm of Adelaide
Although major part of Australia is desert, there is greenery all around ensuring healthy air in Adelaide. There are parks and soccer playgrounds at close vicinity. There are public busses and trains connecting cities to its suburbs while trams and some busses ply free of charge within the city. In all transports, there is discount on fare for refugees and humanitarian entrants.
Most of the vehicles are equipped with special seats for elderly, children and physically challenged ones. There are also shops, departmental stores and markets at different parts of the suburbs. The price varies from place to place and from time to time like in other places.
All health related services are provided by Medicare Australia at great discount for us. It is illegal to buy or sell medicine- even a pain killer without doctor’s prescription. Hospitals provide homely care for the patients. If you are sick, all you should do is to call ambulance and get admitted in the hospital and clear the bill. Keeping attendant is discouraged.
Going through life lane
Born in a middle class family in a remote village of Samchi district of Bhutan, I had never expected to travel such a long distance in life. My dream to study high school virtually turned into asses when my school was torched by an unknown gang at midnight in early 1990. I would be a good cowboy if not a priest had I remained in Bhutan. It is because schools are open for the children of government officials, national security personnel and of course elite groups.
I was a small fish in pond chased away by a big fish into the sea. Now, I have greater freedom to move and also there are many who will listen to the cause of my flight. Here, I have enough time to learn to live. With long breath I am planning for future, nothing to hurry for. We are welcome as immigrants like million others to settle in this great land and build up ourselves and the country.
Interestingly, my 96 year old grand father is an honored resident of this country and will be citizen after few years. He was not recognized as a citizen of Bhutan where he was born and even served the government for over forty years. I am reborn in a right place. I thank the people of Australia who funded me and my family, especially my grand father to settle in their land.
(This is the writer’s personal account and does not necessarily carry the view of the government or the service providers of Australia)