Daniel Thein Tha Nya is a Karen refugee from Burma. He migrated to Australia 8 years ago. Prior to his migration, Daniel lived in a Thai refugee camp on the Thai-Burma Border for 11 years. Now based in NSW, Daniel mentors and supports newly arrived Karen through their process of resettlement. On behalf of his community, he coordinates sporting programs for refugee and Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) youth. Currently, Daniel is working with Auburn Diversity Services as a settlement worker.
This is Daniel’s Story…
The Karen People
To give you a little background – Karen is the second largest ethnic group out of 8 major ethnicities in Burma. Approximately 75–80 % of Karen people in Burma live in rural areas and most of them earn their living by working on paddy farms, gardens or orchards. Karen are very keen to work on farms and are familiar with farming or gardening related jobs.
The Karen people are a persecuted ethnic group from Burma due to ethnicity, political and religious differences.
Karen Resistance/revolution movement started in 1949 – to defend their lives, properties, homeland, and identity. Karen people experienced the untold misery of war, persecution, loss of lives, loss of property, loss of identity and homeland, displacement, and refugee situation of over 67 years which is still going on.
Leaving my homeland with my family
In February 1997 after fleeing civil war between Burmese military Government and Karen liberation movement, my family and I had to leave our homeland and seek asylum in a Thai refugee camp. At that time my family consisted of six members – my dad, my mum, my two younger brothers, my younger sister and myself. I am the oldest son and I was about 11 years old when we fled the war and the fighting.
Life in a refugee camp for eleven years
I lived in Thai-Burma border refugee camp for 11 years. We happened to live in one of the most restricted camps along Thai-Burma Border and life conditions were very bad.
Camp living conditions were very crowded full of squalor and filthy. Consequently, there were contingent diseases. Water bound diseases such as malaria,diarrheaa, dysentery, typhoid, measles, chicken pox, meningitis etc were all quite common. My father succumbed to an unknown disease and passed away in 2006.
Not able to move about freely
Besides being crowded and the squalid living conditions, there was a general lack of privacy & security. There were restrictions of movement. You were not allowed to go outside the camp beyond 500 metres.
There were limited rations and with no income generation program. There was limited food provided.
No jobs and poor health and education
Also, there was no job opportunity, minimum health care and education assistance. I could continue my education although we had very limited resources and assistance from NGOs.
When I was in refugee camp at that time there was no phone, internet, computer, cinema, I never knew about email until I arrived in Australia.
There were no sport fields to play on in the refugee camp; we played soccer on the hill side on rock and stone.
Coming to Australia – very different after life in a refugee camp
We eventually were processed for a third country resettlement and finally could come to Australia in 2008.
Going to school
When I first arrived in Australia I had very little English and I did not have confidence to communicate with people. I remember my first week at school I was quiet and did not understand much of what people were saying to me. I started to study in Bankstown Senior College from Intensive English Course and finished my year 12 in 2010.
In the refugee camp when I went to school I was taught not to speak against older people and when I talked to the older people I needed to cross my hand and not to look at their eyes.
In refugee camp I have never heard of excursion and never been on an excursion. We had picnics. In the school system there were three exams in a year and no assignments – but we had homework to do. If I did not do my homework the teacher would beat me in the class room in front of students. If I failed the final exam I needed to repeat the class for another year until I passed the exam.
Going to the supermarket
When I went to Coles or Woolworths I was shocked because of the big, big shop which I had never seen before. I bought chips, milk, coke and other snacks as I like these foods. In Australia here we have so many foods. Sometimes I am reminded when I was in a refugee camp I did not get to eat these foods. When I wanted to pay for foods I saw people were lining up and I was wondering what they were doing. I had never experienced lining up to pay for and buy things.
In the refugee camp we cooked with fire wood which is different in Australia. We went down to the stream and carried water to our home but here in Australia the water is in the house using a water tap!
Using a bank card
I had never used a Bank card before and did not know how to use them before coming to Australia. After a few weeks after arriving in Australia I got a bank card and when I started withdraw money I smiled and felt very happy!
Rules and regulations
In Australia there are many rules and regulations which I am still learning. For example, to go fishing and hunting you need a licence. I was not familiar with this as I was from a refugee camp and I found that it was very strange because back in Burma (Karen State) I could do anything without a licence.
When I went to an office like the bank or Centrelink, I was asked to provide my birth certificate. I never had one as I was born in the small village and there was no hospital.
In refugee camp I have never heard of appointment, here in Australia if I wanted to go to dentist hospital I need to make an appointment.
In Australia where ever I go there is rubbish bin, but in refugee camp I could throw the rubbish anywhere that I wanted.
In refugee camp when I saw the Thai police I was scared of them. Here in Australia the police are friendly, unless you break the law.
Being a tourist
When I visited to Opera House the first time it was such a wonderful feeling and when I first saw to Manly beach I felt very excited because it was my first time I had seen the ocean.
What am I doing now?
After school, I continued my further study at Liverpool TAFE and finished my Diploma in Human Resources Service in 2012 and Diploma in Community Services in Wetherill Park TAFE.
In 2013 I got my citizenship and it was the best feeling ever! I believe there has never been a better time to become Australian Citizen. This was my first recognition as a citizen and I am so grateful to Australia Government for accepting me to this country.
Currently, I am working at Auburn Diversity Service as a youth worker. I am also involved in volunteering work in assisting community needs, coaching a community youth soccer team. I am very thankful to the Australia government for settling my family in Australia so that we can enjoy our lives full of freedom with a quality life standard.
In refugee camp I thought about how much of an effort it was to buy a bicycle, but now in Australia sometimes I think about buying a house one day
I am very happy to be in Australia and the people are very nice friendly to me. Now I got my driving licence I can drive around which I have never expected that I will be driving car. I enjoy the freedom peace and justice which we call Australia HOME and aware of where we come from, what we went through also where we are today.