What It’s Really Like To Arrive In Australia As A Refugee

What It’s Really Like To Arrive In Australia As A Refugee

My name is Nyibol Gatlwak and this is my story.

I am 25 years old and I am South Sudanese.

I currently work as a case manager for the family strengths program at CatholicCare NT.

My family arrived in Australia in 1999 and I have lived in Australia for 17 years.

Prior to that, I lived in a refugee camp in Kenya from the age 0 – 8 years due to war which broke out in south Sudan. My family took me and my siblings to the refugee camp in an effort to save our lives from the war.

From what I remember, this refugee camp was remote and we slept in tents.

nyibol parent

Nyibol, her siblings and parents.

The UN delivered food about once every three months, which mainly consisted of dry goods. We built our own huts out of whatever we could find and had to live day by day.

We did have one school and one hospital but you had to be dying to receive any medical attention.

As a child, I did not know any different and thought the conditions were normal.

It was not until I was older and returned to the camp in 2007 which I realised the poor conditions which I grew up in.

It took 8 years before my family was finally allowed into Australia by the Government and even then, we did not know who to trust.

Back in Kenya, we could not even trust the local police officers due to the corruption. It was also a struggle at first as we had no knowledge of the culture, the law, the language and the services.

Western Sydney University released this powerful story of a Sudanese refugee late last year.


At that time, we received no education or training in the refugee camp to prepare us for the move, and while I went to school once I arrived in Australia, it still took years before I received special education to learn English.

After a few years and with support from many members of our local community, me and my family settled into Australia. I considered myself lucky as my family was welcomed.

I considered myself lucky as my family was welcomed into Australia and I have met many great people who have supported us to integrate and contribute to Australian society.

I consider Australia my home and I love this country.

However, there are things which everyday people can do in the community to help other refugee families to have a similar positive experience.

Firstly, as a refugee living in Australia, it was the volunteers and the people who assisted me and my family while expecting nothing in return that made the difference in my life. So please do not underestimate the positive impact of volunteering and helping refugees.

Secondly, please keep in mind that many refugees have seen crimes which no person should see, including my family. So not only are refugees dealing with this trauma, they are also trying to live in a society which they have no knowledge of.

So please do not be offended or too quick to judge when meeting these refugees.
Put yourself in someone else’s shoes when you have a chance to speak with someone who has live the refugee experience.

Interested in learning more about the experience of refugees and people seeking asylum?

Road to Refuge will tell you their story.

Road To Refuge