I am Thiha Yarzar, a political refugee from Burma. I arrived in Australia on 24th May 2012, just over 4 years ago. I would like to share some of my story with you about my life in Burma, my journey to Australia and my experience as a refugee resettled in Melbourne.
Since a young age I have stood up for democracy, human rights, social justice and equality for my country. I have fought very hard for these values, and have paid a high price. I have spent nearly 18 of my 50 years as a political prisoner in Burma. I have experienced and witnessed atrocities that should not be known to any living being. But I survived. After my release in September 2008, I could no longer remain in Burma due to pressure from the Burmese Military Regime who tried to persuade me to join them for propaganda against democracy. Because I was still determined to fight for democracy in my country, this meant that my life was at risk. I had no option but to flee Burma and so I made the risky journey to Thailand to seek asylum.
Once I crossed the border I arrived in a little Thai town called Mae Sot where I was considered to be an illegal person as I had no passport and no visa. I went directly to UNHCR to seek protection. I was told by UN officials that despite my well-known history of persecution, they could not assist me due to Thailand not being signatory to the International Refugee Convention. I then lived without protection, as an illegal person in Thailand for over three years where I was arrested and detained several times, facing constant threats of deportation and extortion.
During my times of struggle in Thailand, I met my soon-to-be wife Julia Carroll (Yarzar) who was undertaking her PhD in Mental Health on the Thai-Burma boarder providing training to refugee communities and other NGOs. Finally, at the end of 2011 I applied for an Australian Government Humanitarian Offshore visa and two months later I was invited to the Australian Embassy in Bangkok. I was interviewed and my application was given priority status due the ongoing dangers I faced in Thailand. After a very anxious 6 month wait, my application was accepted and I was then brought to Australia to begin my new life.
I recall arriving to Tullamarine airport and realising for that the first time since being arrested in 1991, I was finally a legal resident of a country. This for me meant that I got my identity back. I was not running anymore. Shortly after, I was referred to refugee settlement services and linked into an Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP). My English was assessed to be at a high level so I enrolled in a Diploma of Community Development at RMIT where I graduated in 2013.
In 2013, about 18 months after I arrived, I was successful in obtaining my first paid employment in Australia with Wesley Mission Victoria as a Residential Support Worker within the Community Detention Program supporting asylum seeker young people. This gave me a sense of pride and happiness as I was able to provide support to asylum seekers and continue my passion for social justice and equality. During this year I also began working as an interpreter with Victorian Interpreting and Translating Services.
In February 2014, my wife and I celebrated the arrival of our precious daughter Charlotte. In 2015, I returned to study a Diploma of Interpreting at RMIT where I obtained my National Accreditation for Translators and Interpreters (NAATI). In late 2015 my career opportunities expanded as I began working at Swinburne University part-time as a Pathways Counsellor, providing education and career advice for students from migrant, refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds. With great excitement in late 2015 I also joined the Settlement team at Jesuit Social Services as a part-time Community Development Worker. I am really enjoying my role and being part of my team and the broader organisation of Jesuit Social Services. I feel proud to be part of a team and an organisation who are determined to support and advocate for the needs of refugees and newly arrived communities.
I am happy. I am happy enjoying my life with my little family, my lovely wife and daughter. We have recently bought our first home and moved into our beautiful and safe neighbourhood. I am also excited to be awaiting my Australian citizenship and looking forward to being able to vote during future State and Federal elections. I feel very grateful for the past four years as I have achieved so much, more than I had in the previous 25 years! I could not have done this without the welcoming support of my wife’s family, our friends and organisations like Jesuit Social Services who have supported my career development. I am also grateful for the settlement services that assisted me to find my feet in my new country, I now feel so satisfied that I am able to provide this service to other refugees within the Australian community.