Refugee Week Ambassadors
Refugee Week Ambassadors are individuals who are either from a refugee background or who have an interest in and understanding of refugee and migrant issues in Australia. Their role is to promote Refugee Week, its aims and objectives.
Nga “Nahji” Chu
Nga Chu, known to everyone as Nahji, misschu and the Queen of the Rice Paper Rolls, is a restaurateur and caterer who has created a business that truly fuses a deeply personal life story and inter-generational commitment to Vietnamese food with a fun and highly professional service approach. Born in Luang Prahbang, Laos, in 1970, Nahji and her family escaped the Pathet Laos Regime in 1975. They sustained themselves on the meagre living conditions afforded by the various Thai refugee camps they inhabited over a four-year period before the Chu family’s number came up and the Australian government made them one of the first Vietnamese-Laotian refugees to settle in Australia.
The Chu family own and operate several Vietnamese restaurants in Melbourne, and in 2005, Nahji established the misschu catering business in Sydney, supplying venues and events with her sublime Vietnamese-inspired canapés. The misschu tuckshop in Bourke Street, Darlinghurst, opened in 2009 and in 2010 at the new Opera Kitchen at the Sydney Opera House. More stores have been opened in Melbourne and Sydney with new outlets planned for Queensland, South Australia, Perth and London.
Nahji’s rich Vietnamese heritage is the basis for the misschu menu, which also features the Refugee Visa that the family entered Australian on in 1978. A talented filmmaker, Nahji has produced a charcoal animation telling her story and that of many other Vietnamese refugees.
Abdi Aden was forced to flee his home in Mogadishu due to Somalia's shattering civil war. Separated from family, Abdi spent the next years doing what he could to survive in Romania before arriving in Melbourne alone. At this time, he was just a young boy of about 16 years of age. With no family, Abdi also found it difficult without any support from friends. After struggling his way through English language studies and secondary school, Abdi pushed himself to be more engaged and give back to the country that had supported him. This drive led him to a career in community development at a tertiary level.
n For the past 13 years, Abdi has been employed as a youth worker. This has given him the chance to give to the community by advocating for the rights of people from a disadvantaged background. This year, Abdi participated in the award-winning “Go Back To Where You Came From” documentary and has featured in the media, using his profile to empower other refugees and communities to share their stories and achievements. One of Abdi’s career highlights was realised in 2007 when he won the Victorian Refugee Recognition Award.
David Manne is a lawyer and migration agent, and Executive Director of the Refugee and Immigration Legal Centre (RILC). He has worked in various capacities assisting refugees and asylum seekers for over 18 years. In January 2001, he joined RILC, which is the largest provider of free legal assistance to disadvantaged migrants, asylum seekers and refugees in Australia. He sat on the Board of the Refugee Council of Australia for seven years and currently sits on a number of other non-governmental Boards and peak government consultative bodies. Recently, he was also appointed to the UN High Commissioner for Refugees Advisory Board of Eminent Persons.
David has been the recipient of numerous prestigious awards, including the Law Institute of Victoria Paul Baker Prize for Administrative and Human Rights Law, and President’s Awards (2006 and 2011), and was shortlisted for the Australian Human Rights Commission Human Rights Medal in 2011. Since 2008, he has been voted by his peers as one of Australia’s leading Immigration Lawyers in the annual Australian edition of the international Best Lawyers publication, and was selected as a participant for the 2020 Summit. In 2011, David was listed No.1 in The Age Magazine ‘Melbourne’s Top 100’.
David has headed RILC’s legal teams in the recent successful High Court challenges regarding the Government’s “offshore processing” regime in Australia, the Government’s “Malaysian Solution” as well as in the case challenging the adverse security assessment and indefinite detention of a refugee.
Carina Hoang demonstrated amazing courage by escaping war-torn Vietnam on a wooden boat with her two younger siblings and 370 other people when she was just 16. After 10 months in a Refugee camp in Indonesia, Hoang was finally able to begin the next phase of her life in the United States. Over the next 20 years, Hoang continued her education, and had a successful career. Five years ago, Hoang resettled in Perth with her family. Hoang’s on-going work as a publisher and refugee advocate saw her publish the book, Boat People in 2011, which provides a moving account of the Vietnamese boat people experience of the late 1970s and 1980s.
Boat People won 2012 Independent Publisher Book Award for Australia and New Zealand region best non-fiction, was nominated for the Human Rights Book Award, and the WA Premier’s Book Award. Hoang has become an influential advocate for refugees and helps Australians to understand the issues surrounding the modern-day boat people arrivals and shares the experiences of Vietnamese boat people with students and adults.
Since 2009, Hoang has committed to return annually to the sites of former refugee camps on now-uninhabited islands in Indonesia, to help Vietnamese families from France, Canada, Vietnam, Australia and the US search for graves of loved ones who died during the exodus. Hoang was an Inductee to the Western Australia Women’s Hall of Fame in 2011, recipient of the City of Belmont’s 2011 Volunteer of the Year Award, nominated for the 2012 Western Australian of the Year Award, and was a finalist for the Murdoch University 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award. Hoang is currently pursuing a PhD at Murdoch University.
For the 12 years George waited in a Guinean refugee camp for a resettlement opportunity, his thoughts were plagued with the fear of an unknown future for his family. It was there that George made a promise - if he ever left the camp he would help rebuild the lives of others who endured similar hardship. Born in Liberia in 1978, George’s childhood was all about challenges. In 1990, his father was murdered by rebels during the civil war, and soon after the family fled to a refugee camp in Guinea-Conakry. As the eldest son in a family of eight, George felt pressure to help his mother raise his brothers and sisters. Eventually, he left the refugee camp to work in a photography shop and sent money to his family in the camp. Tragedy struck in November 2004, a month before George was to be resettled in Australia, when his mother died in a minibus crash. The crash exacerbated the mixed emotions he already felt about saying goodbye to brothers and sisters to start a new life in Australia with his wife, Veronica, and first child, Edna.
In Australia, George has welcomed two more children to the family, and he continues his contribution to the South Australian community - trying to stay true to the promise made all those years ago in the refugee camp. A former president of the Liberian Community of South Australia, the Vice Chairperson of Recreation and sport committee of the African Communities of South Australia, a Member of the Youth Advisory Committee (YAC) and a former commission member of the South Australian Multicultural and Ethnic Affairs Commission, George has completed a diploma in community welfare work and Certificate IV in community mediation at Port Adelaide TAFE and is currently completing his final year of a degree in social work. As a Case Manager at the Migrant Resource Centre of South Australia, George supports and assists newly-arrived refugees settle in South Australia, receiving them at the airport and taking them to their first accommodation until they feel confident to move on with their lives. George volunteers to help migrants from all backgrounds and promotes non-violence against girls and women as a White Ribbon Ambassador. In 2012, George was awarded a Pride of Australia Medal 2012 in the category of “Fair Go”. He was also honoured at the 2009 Governor Multicultural Awards, 2011 African Chambers of Commerce as outstanding community leaders’ awards and the 2012 FOLICA (Federation of Liberian communities of Australia) for outstanding contribution as community leader.
Mariam "Maz" Hakim
A radio announcer at 104.7 in Canberra, Mariam “Maz” Hakim burst onto the entertainment scene with a knack for the stage, the studio and a flair with people. Mariam comes from a traditional Afghan family where music and entertainment played a significant role in her upbringing. She arrived in Australia in 1983 after her father fled Kabul with his family during the invasion by the Soviet Union. Maz was trained at one of the most prestigious arts and broadcast schools - the Australian Film Television Radio School, where her love and passion for media developed into a career. Mariam was a roaming reporter for the 2Day FM and Triple M newsrooms in Sydney. She has voiced promotions and national shows such as Hamish and Andy. Maz has hosted events such as Channel 7’s The X Factor warm-up event in Sydney, Tropfest Canberra, Katy Perry Movie Premiere Canberra, 2Day FM Sydney rooftop events, corporate client events such as Domayne, the Sports for Women day breakfast and weddings. She has also broadcasted from Skyfire and Summernats.
The refugee journey for Mohammad started when he worked as an interpreter for American and Canadian Coalition forces in Afghanistan in the 2000s. As a member of the Hazara people, an easily-identifiable religious and ethnic minority, Mohammad lived in constant fear of the Taliban who persecuted and killed Hazara people in Afghanistan and in Pakistan where many community members fled. Towards the end of 2008 and early 2009, Mohammad started to receive death threats from the Taliban who were aware of his role assisting American and Canadian soldiers. In 2009, Mohammad’s family made the painful decision to send him to a safe location. Arriving in Australia as an asylum seeker, Mohammad spent a number of months in immigration detention before being accepted as a refugee in 2010 and starting a new life in Australia. Mohammad now helps other refugees re-start their lives through his work as a settlement officer with Multicultural Development Association in Rockhampton, Queensland. Mohammad is active in the local community and was involved in the organisation of Welcome to Australia’s Walk Together initiative which provides the community the opportunity to introduce refugees to the community and celebrate their achievements. Mohammad hopes for a better future for his family and to ensure humanitarian arrivals reach their potential in Australia.
The Flybz (Fablice and G-Storm)
From a dusty Tanzanian refugee camp to the prestigious stage of the Sydney Opera House, it has been an inspirational journey for Australia’s number one African-Australian hip-hop act The Flybz. As a former child soldier, Fablice escaped his guerrilla army life in Burundi, aged 11 years. On the run from military forces, he fled to a refugee camp in neighbouring Tanzania where he was reunited with his sister, his only surviving direct family member. In Tanzania, Fablice connected with his nephew G-Storm and the boys began experimenting with music as a means to express themselves in a war-torn environment. Facing deteriorating living conditions in the camp and unable to return to Burundi, Fablice, his sister and G-Storm were accepted as refugees and moved to Australia to start a new life. Performing as The Flybz, Fablice and G-Storm are passionate about sharing their experiences and stories of loss, hope, war and love through music. Since establishing a home in Australia in 2007, The Flybz have performed at youth prisons, African homework clubs, Xavier College in Melbourne, Indigenous cultural celebrations, Melbourne’s Fringe Festival, Moomba, RRR Community Football Day, shared stages and recording studios with Paul Kelly, Xavier Rudd, Angie Hart, Blue King Brown, Painters and Dockers, Ella and Jesse Hooper, Diafrix, Killer Queens and Black Roots. The Flybz have released a debut album with the backing of Multicultural Arts Victoria and visited their homeland in December 2012 during a fact-finding mission with Action Aid.
Tony Le Nguyen
Actor, writer and director Tony Le Nguyen grew up in Can Tho, a city in southern Vietnam. His mother ran a small grocery store and his father was as a high school English teacher. During the Vietnam War, Tony’s father worked as an interpreter with the South Vietnamese army. When the war ended with the victory of North Vietnam in 1975, his father was arrested and imprisoned in a “re-education” camp for two years. With his father in prison, Tony’s mother became the sole provider for her seven children. In order to support her family, she was forced to sell medicine on the black market. Tony assisted his mother by taking food to his father in the camp. When Tony’s father was released from the camp, he decided that his family must leave Vietnam. On their first attempt, their boat was wrecked on the Vietnamese coast and they managed to escape on their second attempt, narrowly evading border police. After spending six months in a camp on the Thai border, Tony’s family was transferred to Bangkok to undergo health checks before travelling to Australia in 1979. Tony was 10 years old at the time. The Nguyen family settled in Melbourne. At the age 16, Tony landed a role in the television mini-series The Sword of Honour and over the next decade, Tony worked in theatre and television, featuring in series such as Fast Forward, GP and Paradise Beach. He also starred as Tiger in Geoffrey Wright’s 1992 film Romper Stomper. After working as an actor for ten years, Tony began writing, directing and producing his own work. In 1995, with the support of Footscray Community Arts Centre he founded Australian Vietnamese Youth Media (AVYM), a non-profit organisation which aims to provide opportunities for young Australians from Vietnamese backgrounds to meet, share ideas and express themselves through the performing arts. During this time, Tony also completed a Bachelor of Arts degree at Victoria University, majoring in Community Development and Drama. Tony is currently working as the Community Development Coordinator for Quang Minh Buddhist Temple, organising various social, culture and environmental events. He also devotes much of his time to voluntary work.
In July 1947, the Australian Government embarked on a program to settle people displaced by the destruction of World War II. Two years later, Holocaust survivor Olga Horak and her husband John arrived in Australia, finding safety, security and an opportunity to contribute to Australia. Born in Czechoslovakia, Olga lived in Bratislava with her family for the first 15 years of her life before escaping to Hungary. With Hungary no longer a safe haven, the family moved back to Slovakia which was invaded by Germany in 1944. Olga, her parents, grandmother and other family members were loaded into cattle trucks and transported to Auschwitz, where Olga was separated from her father, who she never saw again. Having survived the horrors of Auschwitz and other camps, Olga and her mother were forced into the notorious death marches followed by the extreme deprivations of the Bergen-Belsen camp in Germany. On the day British and Canadian troops liberated the camp’s survivors in 1945, Olga and her mother were issued with Displaced Persons cards. But moments after being registered, Olga’s mother collapsed and died. Back in Bratislava, Olga met John and they travelled on the Greek ship Cyrenia, docking in Melbourne on 16 September 1949. In Australia, Olga moved to Sydney to establish the Hibodress blouse factory. For many years, Olga found it difficult to talk about her experiences but in 2000 she published a moving account of her life in “Auschwitz to Australia: survivors memoir”. The memoir served as a way of ensuring that the tragic events Olga endured will not be forgotten. Today, Olga is a volunteer at the Sydney Jewish Museum.
Say Htoo Eh Moero
Say Htoo Eh Moero is a Karen woman from Myanmar (Burma) and was born and raised in the guerrilla zone on the Thai-Burma border. She grew up as the third child in the family with one younger brother and two sisters. Say Htoo never had a birth certificate or Burmese citizenship. When she was 16 years old, the Burmese Army attacked and destroyed the village and the family became refugees. Say Htoo’s family moved from place to place then on to Bangkok where they applied for refugee status under UNHCR. The family lived in Bangkok for four years waiting to come to Australia. As Thailand did not afford refugees legal status, Say Htoo could not attend a Thai school or continue her studies. The family spent every hour of every day hiding in fear, confined to a very small apartment room.
On 25 September 1999, Say Htoo’s family arrived in Australia as refugees. “I was no longer illegal and I became a human being. My eight year-old brother had an opportunity to start his first school. I learnt English language at AMES and then studied at TAFE. Two years later I became an Australian citizen. I am married and have two beautiful children, a son and a daughter,” Say Htoo said.
Say Htoo’s motivation is to help people and give back to the country that accepted her. She currently works full time at the Wyndham Community and Education Centre Inc as a Settlement Case Worker and performs countless hours of voluntary work for her church and the local Karen community. Say Htoo has worked for many community organisations since arriving in Australia, assisting fellow refugees to settle well. Her community service was recognised last year when Prime Minister Julia Gillard presented her with the “Above and Beyond” Award for outstanding service to the people of Wyndham. This year, she was also awarded Case Worker of the Year at the inaugural Migration and Settlement Awards in Canberra, which recognises her dedication and passion for assisting in the settlement of newly arrived refugees.
Abdul Karim Hekmat
Abdul Karim Hekmat arrived as a refugee from Afghanistan in 2001 when the Taliban was still in power and was persecuting the Hazaras. As a Hazara, his family members were tortured by the Taliban. He spent five months in Curtin detention centre in Western Australia and then lived for over three years under a Temporary Protection Visa. He graduated with Honours from the University of Technology, Sydney under TPV scholarship. Since then he has participated in many forums, conferences, the Sydney Writers’ Festival and media debates on refugee issues.
He has had articles published in The Australian, National Times, The Age, the Drum and onlineopinion. He also writes short stories and his first short story was published an anthology Alien Shores in May, 2012. His exhibition Unsafe Haven: Hazaras in Afghanistan, that highlights the condition of Hazaras in Afghanistan, has been touring Australia. Abdul works at Fairfield Migrant Resource Centre in Sydney helping young people from refugee backgrounds with their settlement and capacity building.
This year, Abdul received the inaugural John Gibson Refugee Community Leadership Grant which will allow him to be part of the Australian delegation at the annual consultations between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs from around the world.