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, supplying venues and events with her sublime Vietnamese-inspired canapés. By 2008 misschu had become the largest caterer of Asian cuisine in Sydney. In 2009, the misschu tuckshop opened in Bourke Street, Darlinghurst, and in 2010, Nahji established the Opera Kitchen at the Sydney Opera House. The misschu brand has continued to grow, with seven further misschu tuckshops opening across Sydney and Melbourne, as well as an outlet in London where Nahji was recently nominated for a QANTAS Australian Business in the UK award. Further misschu branches are planned for London, as well as Hong Kong and New York.
Nahji’s rich Vietnamese heritage is the basis for the misschu menu and branding, which features the Refugee Visa that the family entered Australian on in 1978, a topic Nahji recently spoke about during a TEDx talk in the U.K. A talented filmmaker, Nahji has produced a charcoal animation telling her story and that of many other Vietnamese refugees. Nahji has recently been made a member of the NSW Multicultural Business Advisory Board.
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 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.
For the past 14 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. Last 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. Abdi spends much of his time sharing his life experiences with school students, youth groups and others as a motivational speaker and human rights advocate.
Sarah Blasko is a Sydney based singer/songwriter who has released four critically-acclaimed albums. She has also written music for theatre, film and dance and has a side project with singers Holly Throsby & Sally Seltmann called “Seeker Lover Keeper”.
Known for her affecting live shows, she has toured extensively throughout Australia, Europe and North America. In support of her recent Australian Recording Industry Australia (ARIA)-nominated album “I Awake”, she performed with Symphony Orchestras to sold-out audiences across Australia, including two Sydney Opera House shows.
Sarah has been nominated for numerous awards, receiving an ARIA Award for Best Female Artist (2010) and Best Pop Release (2007). Her 2009 album “As Day Follows Night” was named Triple J's Album Of The Year. Sarah is currently working on her fifth studio album.
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 20 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. David sat on the Board of the Refugee Council of Australia for seven years, and currently sits on a number of other non-government Boards, including the Human Rights Law Centre and the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture Ethics Committee, and peak Government consultative bodies. He has also been 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.
David headed RILC’s legal teams in the recent successful High Court challenges in the cases of Plaintiff M61 v The Commonwealth & Ors (regarding the Government’s ‘offshore processing’ regime in Australia); Plaintiffs M70/M106 v The Commonwealth & Ors (regarding the Government’s ‘Malaysian Solution’); Plaintiff M47 v The Director-General of ASIO & Ors (challenging the adverse security assessment and indefinite detention of a refugee); and Plaintiff M76 v Minister for Immigration and Citizenship & Ors (regarding indefinite detention).
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 was finalist for 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, recipient of the 2012 Karl Farrell Inspiration Award, and was a finalist for the Murdoch University 2012 Distinguished Alumni Award. Hoang is currently pursuing a PhD at Murdoch University.
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 the 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.
Last year, Mohammad’s hope for a better future for his family was restored when he was reunited with his wife and two young children. Mohammad says having his family with him has given him new energy to help other humanitarian arrivals reach their potential.
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, the RRR Community Football Day, run workshops during the National Youth Awards, been guest speakers at schools such as Williamstown College and Daylesford High, and 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 released their debut album “Just Passing Through” in 2011 with the backing of Multicultural Arts Victoria and visited their homeland in December 2012 during a fact-finding mission with Action Aid. In 2013 the Flybz released their new single “Child Soldier”, created in collaboration with Paul Kelly and produced by Jessie Hooper and Pataphysics. More recently, Fablice became the first recipient of the Multicultural Arts Victoria’s (MAV) Development Scholarship for Refugee Youth
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. In January 2014, Olga was awarded an Order of Australia Medal.
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.
Fr Rod Bower is an Anglican priest and Rector of Gosford on the New South Wales Central Coast. The Gosford Anglican Community has become known as a progressive voice speaking into the social issues of the day. One of the main concerns of the community is Australia’s treatment of Asylum Seekers and Refugees. Fr Rod grew up in the New South Wales Hunter Valley on his parents’ grazing property. He worked in the meat industry until training for the priesthood in his late twenties. He believes that he has had an incredibly privileged life and that those like him have a special responsibility to enhance the lives of others through promoting a society that is characterized by justice and equity.
Fr Rod’s voice and that of the Gosford Anglican Community is directed towards “middle Australia” with the specific intention of promoting a culture of compassion that will influence legislative decisions, ultimately resulting in a more just society.
Sydney-based Vanessa Turnbull-Roberts is a young and proud Indigenous woman from the Bundjalung Mob in northern NSW. Studying for her Higher School Certificate, Vanessa is heavily involved in advocacy. After attending the National Indigenous Youth Leadership Academy last year, Vanessa and seven other young Indigenous leaders created their own “Change the Conversation” campaign to challenge stereotypes and negative media portrayal of asylum seekers and refugees, and to encourage a culture of welcome for new arrivals.
“Our culture embraces a sense of belonging and acceptance, as well as healing and forgiving and I feel that these people leaving war zones, fighting for survival just like our elders were, deserve a shot at a new life, a healthy life, just like everybody on this earth does. If we cannot help our brothers and sisters now when do we start? We need to focus on what this world is turning to, and come together as one again.” Vanessa is well-aware of the responsibility her generation has to guide the next by acting with honesty, integrity and mutual respect for one another.
Jane Alia was born in Uganda, where her parents were living in exile, having fled their war-ravaged homeland in South Sudan.
As a young woman of refugee background, Jane is passionate in her advocacy and empathy on issues impacting on the welfare of recently-arrived refugees and asylum seekers in the Northern Territory. Jane volunteers at the Melaleuca Refugee Centre and the Multicultural Council of the Northern Territory and acts as Formal Chair and Executive Member of the Multicultural Youth Northern Territory.
Her achievements include: 2012 Northern Territory School-based Apprentice of the Year, finalist in the Australian Training Awards, keynote speaker at 2012 International Women's Day celebrations at Parliament House, 2013 winner of the Minister for Young Territorians Excellence in Youth Leadership Award (in the NT Young Achiever Awards). Jane was an Australian ambassador at the World Conference on Youth and Community Services in South Africa in July 2013, and was a speaker and presenter at the international Women of the World Festival in Katherine in September 2013. Jane is also an Australian Apprenticeships Ambassador for the Australian Government.
In 2012 Jane visited South Sudan for the first time, with her family. This was an exciting and deeply moving experience. She saw where her father was born, met relatives and saw first-hand the challenges of a country trying to rebuild after 50 years of civil war.
Jane believes that for young people, education is empowerment and fundamental to achieving their goals in life. She leads by example, combining her work as a qualified Dental Assistant with further study at Charles Darwin University.
Khadija Gbla is a passionate leader of the African community in South Australia, advocate and motivational speaker. Khadija volunteers for numerous organisations, sits on numerous boards, serves as a Director of West African Young Women's Association, is editor of Chocolate magazine and President of the Sierra Leonean Youth Group.
Khadija’s social justice activities have been recognised by a number of significant Australian business and political organisations. In 2011, Khadija was named Young South Australian of the Year and Young African Australian of the Year. Other accolades include The Advertiser South Australia’s 50 most Influential Women (2014), Madison Magazine Australia's top 100 inspiring Women (2013) Amnesty International Human Rights Activists to watch out for (2013).
Khadija runs her own consultancy which offers cross cultural training for organisations, private companies and government agencies, cultural integration programs for Culturally and Lingusitically Diverse Communities and motivational speaking.
Barat Ali Batoor
Barat Ali Batoor was born in 1983, in a family that was driven out of Afghanistan during civil war when most of his people were massacred. He returned to his ancestral country for the first time after September 11, 2001, when the Taliban regime was still in Kandahar, despite the United States-led campaign to oust them. After visiting the devastation and destruction of 23 years of war, Batoor decided to work for his country and to draw the world's attention to the plight of the Afghani people the problems facing the country. He chose photography as his medium of expression.
Batoor started photography in 2002 and launched his first solo exhibition in 2007. His photographs were exhibited in Denmark, Dubai, Australia, Pakistan, Italy, Japan, Switzerland and Afghanistan. His works have been published in magazines, newspapers and catalogues such as The Washington Post, Newsweek, Wall Street Journal, Stern, India Today, Afghan Scene, Risk Magazine, The Global Mail, The West Australian, Strategic Review and others. He participated in “Lahore Artist Residency” in Pakistan and was the 2009 recipient of a photography grant from New York’s Open Society Institute for the project “Child Trafficking in Afghanistan/The Dancing Boys of Afghanistan”. At the Nikon-Walkley Awards in Australia this year, Batoor won Photo of the Year and was a winner in the Photo Essay category.
Barat Ali Batoor’s new exhibition: “Heartlands 2014, A Day in the life of the Hazaras” focuses on the Hazara community living and Melbourne, and is showing in Victoria from 12 - 29 June at the Footscray Community Arts Centre, and 3 - 26 July at the Walker Street Gallery and Arts Centre, Dandenong
Emily Conolan has been a teacher of English as a Second Language for ten years, working with people from refugee backgrounds. In April 2011, upon hearing news of the Pontville Detention Centre opening to take in asylum seekers, she founded Tasmanian Asylum Seeker Support (TASS), a community organisation that mobilised hundreds of volunteers in support of asylum seekers. The activities of TASS, which include visits to detainees, community dinners, an activities program, and free public training sessions for volunteers, have been commended in a number of awards including ‘Tasmanian of the Year’ (jointly awarded to all TASS volunteers) and the Tasmanian Human Rights Award.
TASS has had a positive impact not only on the lives of many asylum seekers and volunteers, but also on the conversation around refugees in Tasmania overall. The activities of TASS also featured in the acclaimed documentary film, Mary Meets Mohammad.
Growing up in the Eastern region of Sri Lanka during the early stages of the civil war, Rev Dr John Jegasothy has experienced first-hand the horrors of forced colonisation, state violence, persecution and terror inflicted upon members of the Tamil ethnic group. Amidst the violence of his last six years in Sri Lanka, Rev Jegasothy served as minister at the Methodist Church in Trincomalee and Chenkalady, was Chairperson of the Human Rights Organisation in the Trincomalee district, and called for peace as a member of the Central Committee. He was also heavily involved in the resettlement of internally displaced people and became a spokesperson for the Tamils in open forums, making him a target for the armed forces and Sinhalese.
In 1986 Rev Jegasothy and his family were granted special Humanitarian Visas and relocated to Australia, spending their first eight years living in Parkes and Shellharbour before moving to Sydney. Rev Jegasothy works tirelessly towards the harmonious integration of different cultures into the local community, helping individuals and families on Temporary Protection Visas settle into their new environments, and assisting asylum seekers on Bridging Visas who don’t have work permits. With the support of the Uniting Church, Rev Jegasothy has launched a mission that offers love, support and pastoral care to asylum seekers in detention centres, especially those in Villawood, and has become well-known ‘Father’ within the community.
Rev. Jegasothy is a member of the Asylum Seekers Interagency, a board member of Combined Churches Refugee Taskforce and president of the Australian Council for Tamil Refugees. He is also a member of the Community Consultative Group of Villawood Detention Centre and has chaired both the Consortium of Tamil Organisation NSW and Friends of STARTTS.
In 2003 Rev Jegasothy was nominated for Human Rights Award by Amnesty International. In 2009 he received the award of “Outstanding Australian” from STARTTS and in 2010 the Tamil Uniting Church and refugee community awarded him with the “Service with Compassion”. He serves in the Rose Bay-Vaucluse Tamil Uniting Church in partnership with Northmead Uniting Church.
Tshibanda Gracia Mukiibi
Tshibanda Gracia Mukiibi (previously known as Tshibanda Gracia Ngoy), is a Congolese-born Australian freelance journalist, author and motivational speaker who arrived under the humanitarian program in July, 2005. Gracia, who speaks five languages, graduated in 2013 from the University of Wollongong with a double degree in Bachelor Communications and Media Studies and a Bachelor of Commerce and now works at the Department of Finance in Perth.
Gracia completed a freelance journalism course at the age of 15 and has since had several articles published on social justice and youth-related issues. Gracia published her first book, “A Little Recipe for Success” in May 2012, aiming to empower and equip young people to take leadership and discover their life purpose. She has also worked as a caseworker for refugee families, a radio co-host, English tutor, and has run workshops based on self-esteem and identity, helping migrant youth settle into life in Australia.
An active community member, Gracia has received awards and recognitions including the 2008 and 2009 Australian Defence Force Long Tan leadership and Teamwork Award, 2010 NSW CRC Young Volunteer of the Year, 2010 Wollongong Young Citizen of the Year, 2011 Young People’s Human Rights Medal Winner, was named Woman of the Week by the Hoopla in December 2011, awarded the Outstanding Young Leaders Award by the African Australia Inc in 2012, was a Welcome to Australia Ambassador in 2013 and a NSW Young Australian of the Year Finalist in 2013.
Renata Kaldor AO
Renata was born in Prague, Czechoslovakia after the end of World War 2. Her Jewish father, who had survived Teresienstadt and Auschwitz, could not tolerate life under yet another totalitarian regime when the communists took over. He bribed his former fellow inmates of the prison camps, who were by then senior officials in the Communist government, to obtain passports for him and his family. Renata’s family were accepted as refugees to Australia in 1949.
Renata’s family established themselves in Sydney. Both her parents worked very hard to ensure that she and her sister gained a good education. Renata feels exceptionally lucky that her father chose to come to Australia. She believes that Australia is fundamentally a welcoming and generous country. Renata’s contributions to Australia have been recognised by the award of an AO in 2002, and a Centenary medal in 2003. She was made an Honorary Fellow of the University of Sydney in 2005.
Renata has been actively involved in refugee affairs since Tampa. The words of her father: “people knew about the concentration camps and did nothing”, resonated in her mind after the long term incarceration of asylum seekers began with Tampa. She and her husband (also refugee, from Hungary) have helped establish The Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of NSW, which takes a human rights-based approach to the issue of refugee law and policy in Australia, establishing high-quality research programs and providing an independent space to connect academics, policymakers and NGOs.
The Butler Falcons are a multicultural AFL team based at the Butler Community Centre in Butler, Western Australia. They seek to inspire young women from all backgrounds to play sport, become strong and independent, help foster multicultural understanding in the wider community and become leaders and mentors based on their experiences facing new challenges.
With their team motto of “We came to Australia. We love AFL. Come join us!”, the women help break down barriers between mainstream Australians and African Australians.
Sam Almaliki is the Senior Manager for Community Engagement at Cricket Australia, overseeing the sport’s engagement strategies for female, multicultural, Indigenous and disability communities. Sam saw his first cricket ball bowled during eight months spent as a boy inside Villawood Detention Centre after his parents and two brothers fled their home in Basra in southern Iraq in 1997. In addition to being passionate about Sports Administration, Sam is committed to community advocacy and serves on numerous Boards and Committees including being a member of the Special Broadcasting Service (SBS) Community Advisory Committee and the Board of the Victorian Chapter of the Australia India Business Council (AIBC).
Sam previously served as a Commissioner on the New South Wales (NSW) Community Relations Commission (CRC) providing policy advice to the NSW Government on multicultural affairs. He has a background in Law and is in the final stages of completing a Bachelor of Laws from the University of Wollongong.