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Tough life in Rwanda’s Refugee Camp Taught me a Lesson: Congolese-Australian Reveals

When Emmanuel Nkurunziza arrived in Australia in 2011, he had just left his home for 15 years to live in a refugee camp in Rwanda.


Mr Nkurunziza and his family fled their homeland of the Congo for Rwanda when he was 12 years old.

His father passed away in the Congo, so it was left to his mother to get her seven children to safety.

"Living in a refugee camp is miserable, you don’t know what the future holds for you, you’re just sitting in a camp," Mr Nkurunziza said.

"Even if you could get education ... you don’t know when or you don’t know where you going.

"It’s a tough life ... it’s like living in a sort of prison ... of course you have human rights but it’s not 100 per cent."

Mr Nkurunziza said they were able to leave the camp and go into town.

But when they did so, they were not recognised as locals.

"They wouldn’t recognise you as a citizen, you can’t have the same rights as a citizen of the country, wherever you’re going to go you will be looked at as a refugee," he said.

"When you are a refugee there is a limit that you can’t go over."

While he was lucky enough to find a new home, Mr Nkurunziza still had relatives and friends in the camp.

"They’re going to be there for years, I don’t know when they’re going to go back to their country," he said.

"If they could get the chance to get resettlement to the other countries like Australia to live a better life like me that would be my pleasure, but even if they could go back to their country that would be great too.

"I hope they get a better life in the future."

Learning the Australian way of life.

Mr Nkurunziza, who is now 32, and his family were resettled through the UNHCR in 2011.

They had to go through a long process of interviews, medical checks and investigations to make sure they were genuine refugees.

They were initially placed in Townsville in north Queensland.

"When I first arrived in Australia it was a new country, new people, new language, new culture so I was surprised," he said.

I feel like I really need to help people, give my time or my help to people, so my passion is to work with people.

Mr Nkurunziza started studying English at TAFE Queensland North after he arrived in Townsville.

He said it was hard to learn the language, but he had some unorthodox methods, which helped him.

Mr Nkurunziza says life style in a refugee camp has never been sweet.

"Even if I couldn’t understand very well I was just trying to read some newspapers, follow news, watch news and listen to the radio," Mr Nkurunziza said.

"Sometimes I would go to the bank ... try and see if I could hold a conversation for a couple of minutes.

"I’d go there and talk to the receptionist and ask them how can I get a loan from this bank, then they go through the process, talking to you, explaining to you how you can get the loan and I was not working, I didn’t have any money!

"I was just trying to give myself confidence, seeing how long I would hold a conversation in English."

Mr Nkurunziza then decided to study a Certificate III in community services at TAFE.

He said this was motivated by his own experience as a refugee.

"I lived in a camp and in the camp there are many ... different cultures, different people from all different countries," he said.

"And in me I feel like I really need to help people, give my time or my help to people, so my passion is to work with people.

"It opened my mind to how to work with people, how to support people, how to give assistance."

To get experience in community services he volunteered at Townsville’s Cleveland Youth Detention centre and at St Vincent De Paul assisting new refugee arrivals with translation, and checking in on them to make sure they were settling in ok.

He then got a job as a support worker at disability service provider House with No Steps.

TAFE Queensland North has also nominated Mr Nkurunziza in the Queensland Training Awards Student of the Year category for 2016.

Bringing his wife to his new home.

As soon as Mr Nkurunziza started working, he started saving his money so that he could marry Providence Uwacu back in Rwanda and bring her to Australia.

"I went to Africa, got married, I came back and started processing papers, applying for a partner visa," he said.

"You have to do some interviews ... you have to pay a lot of money.
"I lodged the application in August 2014 and she got a visa in 2015 in August."

Australia is my other country, I feel like this is my second motherland.

Ms Uwacu has now been in Australia for six months, is studying English, and is pregnant with the couple’s first child.

They recently moved to Brisbane because Ms Uwacu struggled with the north Queensland heat.

Although he is a long way from home, Mr Nkurunziza said he was settling in and starting to feel like an Australian.

"I miss Africa ... Congo is my motherland, I was born in Congo, I grew up in Congo ... but because of problems, wars, conflict I moved," he said.

"But Australia is my other country, I feel like this is my second motherland.

"I’m not a citizen yet but ... I’m looking forward to being a citizen of Australia and I can work a bit further to give nice support to my second country and my country.

"I feel like I’m an Australian ... but originally from Congo."

By Robert Muriisa.

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