July 7, 2016

Memories of being a refugee at sea

Nicole Ray, a Team Leader in Spectrum’s Aged and Disability team, regularly meets with some of our Vietnamese planned activity group (PAG) participants to chat and partake in various social activities designed to keep the ageing migrants stimulated, independent and playing an active role in their community. Some of our Vietnamese PAG group members came to Australia as refugees many moons ago, and Nicole sat down with them to find out a little more about that experience – both the good and the bad.

We thank Trap Duong, Hoang Le, Anh Mai, Ngoc Ngo, Chi Tran and Anna Yong for sharing their stories with us. Please note we have not attributed quotes to individuals, as they have come from open and collaborative group discussion.

What has your life been like since arriving in Australia?

It has been very good. The Australian people and government have been so kind. This is heaven on earth. Our children have had a very good education, with bright futures. [At our age] now, we have very good services and support. It is all we could dream of.

What made you leave your country of origin?

We left because of the communists. They took all of our houses and land. We were cheated into going to concentration camps – they said we would only be there for several days but we ended up there for years. Some of us didn’t know when we would get out of there.

Looking back now, what advice would you give yourself at that time?

We would have told ourselves to escape. If we [had] stayed our children would have no future. We knew that it was very dangerous; we could have lost our lives whilst out at sea, pirates could have caught and killed us, or a storm may have taken our lives. The Vietnamese government chased us and if we were caught we would go to prison. There was no water on the boats and we had to drink urine. It was horrible, but we still had to go as we couldn’t stay there anymore.

What advice would you give to people currently seeking refuge in Australia?

Live today; you don’t know what will be tomorrow. If you need to leave your home country, then you should leave.

What advice would you give the government in relation to people currently seeking refuge in Australia?

Open your arms, but selectively as there are many complicated situations.

Can you tell me some of your happy experiences here in Australia?

When we first arrived, we didn’t know where to go. We held a map in our hands but didn’t know what to do with it. An Australian person came up to us and asked us where we wanted to go and what we wanted to do and they helped take us there.

Can you tell me some of the challenges you have experienced in Australia?

The language. As we don’t speak [good] English it is the biggest barrier for us to socialise or participate in local events and services.

What do you think of Australia now?

Australia is very good and people are kind. It is the best country in the world. Australian’s hearts are wide and kind just like Australia’s land and country.

Spectrum offers a range of ethno-specific PAGs in various locations around Melbourne. If you or a loved one is interested in joining one of our groups, please contact us on 1300 735 653 or info@spectrumvic.org.au. You can also find out more on our Planned Activity Groups page.