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Restoring hope - Refugee Week 2013

in Consumer & the Law, S+G Featured by Kot Monoah on

Refugee Week is Australia's peak annual activity to raise awareness about the issues affecting refugees and celebrate the positive contributions made by refugees to the Australian society.

I will use my humble experiences and background as a former refugee to contribute to the theme of restoring hope and raising awareness of global issues affecting refugees.

First of all, it is important to outline at the outset that the Refugee Week theme has a number of important functions. It raises awareness of the issues affecting refugees and a reminder that, regardless of our differences, we all share a common humanity.

It is important to make reference to who is a refugee before addressing the theme. A refugee is a person who flees his or her country of origin seeking safe place in a foreign country to avoid war or persecution.

War has a humbling experience. At just four years of age my family was forced to flee our home in war-torn Sudan. For the following 15 years, as a refugee, I endured discrimination, violence and displacement, and was deprived of even the most basic necessities. Twelve of those years I lived in horrific conditions at Kakuma Refugee Camp in Kenya stricken with hunger and diseases.

You wait until life returns to normal and then one day you realise that life will never be normal again. You never really recover and never forget. But my greatest reward is something many people in Australia take for granted: enjoying the enduring peace, stability and prosperity this country has enjoyed for decades.

Nonetheless, I believe in always maintaining a positive outlook on life. I reflect on my time as a refuge not with anger or grief but with optimism. I see this upbringing as an opportunity to learn other languages, adopt other cultures, establish new social networks, and grow an enduring human resilience and tolerance.

I arrived in Australia in 2004 and embrace the opportunities that Australia provides to its newcomers.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Laws from Victoria University in 2009, I took on a summer clerkship at Slaters. Just two weeks later I was offered a permanent role as a lawyer at the firm's Sunshine office in Melbourne. The values at Slater and Gordon are very much aligned to my own. It is a firm that I believe works for people's rights, and people facing a lot of challenges in their lives.

Ever since I was a law student I was always passionate about the law and using it to help empower people in the community and make a difference to people’s lives.

Now that I’m a lawyer I look back on my life and feel that it has been enriched through my refugee experience. Instead of feeling homeless, I feel like I have many homes. Being a refugee has also made me appreciate life.

My experience in refugee camps has taught me that respecting our differences is the most fundamental principle of peace. Now I am able to apply this understanding and passion to my work as a lawyer.

As a lawyer reflecting on the theme of Refugee Week of restoring hope, I am in a unique position to restore financial hopes of many workers facing difficult times. Working at Slater and Gordon has given me the opportunity to do this.

During this refugee week, it is important to acknowledge many Australians and organisations that in unique ways contribute positively to the lives of refugees.

As a refugee to this country I've overcome a lot of hardship in my own life and in return I feel it’s important to call on my experiences to help the underprivileged in our Australian and global community.

Since joining Slater and Gordon in 2010, I have presented at several conferences, such as Refugee Week, and have spoken on issues relating to employment and education that impact on the settlement of other Refugees and African Australians in Victoria and around the country.

Being an advocate for issues affecting the lives of African Australians will always be a big part of my life. I am fortunate to be able to do this through my affiliation with various community organisations.

I believe in taking an active role within the emerging communities in particular, whether it is advocating in support of their various needs, volunteering to work with youth in detention centres and prisons, or promoting a greater understanding of multiculturalism in the Victoria Police Force.

I have gone from learning the alphabet in refugee camps by drawing figures in the soil to being a lawyer at Australia’s leading law firm and I hope my achievements can inspire many other refugees to reach their goals.

Whether I’m representing clients in their legal matters or giving back to the community, I carry with me a lifetime of experience, understanding and passion in everything I do.

I ask you to reflect during Refugee Week and think of many people in despair globally and in Australia. Refugee Week may be your time to contribute in addressing various causes that are the root causes of distress to humanity. It may be by way of a service contribution or financial donation to charitable and non-profitable organisations that work with refugees and asylum seekers.

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