‘…it was a beautiful place’

Jacques van der Merwe artist.woman refugee from rwanda

D.O.B. // EARLY 1980’S
DATE INTERVIEWED // 11-10-2012
COUNTRY OF BIRTH // RWANDA
COUNTRIES LIVED IN // RWANDA, ZAMBIA
DATE OF ARRIVAL IN AUSTRALIA // 1999
KIND OF ENTRANCE // REFUGEE

She came to Australia in 1999 when she was 19 years old. She escaped from Rwanda in 1997 and had remained in Zambia for three years.

I was born in Rwanda, Africa and I lived there until I was 19 years old. I left due to war and conflicts. I went to Zambia and later on I came to Australia as a refugee.

When I grew up, it was a normal growing up, it was a beautiful place.  I remember going to school there until 1994. At that time I was 13 years by then and I remember horrible seeing things happening.

I remember people killing each other, I remember crying and I remember saying prayer and I remember seeing my mother horrified and all of my sisters crying.

And the whole country was…was in tears…

Still in 1994, when the war ended, when the other side of the fighting people won the war and I remember the calm and I remember the excitement, but still it wasn’t the same because the country was full of dead bodies and it was smelly and it was ugly.

My mother had been wounded and I had separated with my sister because we all run in different directions.

But life went on.  We were all reunited.  I found my mother in hospital and my sisters were found as well. It was exciting to meet again, even though it was in difficult times. The houses had all been destroyed and people that we knew had all been killed or ran away to different countries.  

Hmmm … then I remember five years after it was still not ok for myself and my younger sister.  We were being followed by soldiers who wanted to marry us.  When we was too young.  And my mother had always said, “You girls should go to school and have an education and you should marry when you are ready.”

So I remember when my Mum was challenged to make a decision of letting the two of us go because we could not stay.  That time was hard too it was a hard time because we had to separate again and run away to find a safe place for the two of us.

We went in Zambia first for three years before we came to Australia, as ‘Women at Risk,’ which is a visa sub-class for refugees. 

It was exciting to get to Australia. We had hopes, we had ambitions. Obviously when you get to here, there are some points … it is like climbing and getting tired in the middle and then climbing again and it was like that for us.  We had to learn English, we had to make new friends, we also had to find ways to communicate with people we left behind …  so, our mother especially because we missed her very much and our younger sister also.  We struggled, but we kept going and made it happen, we went to English classes and then continued with studies at university.  Yes, struggled to get to places, but we made it, we now,  the both of us are now employed and we’re happy we are improving, life is getting better.