One day, when I was 8 years old, we heard gunshots down the street, which meant that soldiers were killing innocent civilians. Dad rushed in and said, ‘We need to leave right now’ and my parents ran around grabbing food and whatever they could lay their hands on. Of course I didn’t understand what was going on, but I could tell something was wrong, as there was this desperation to get out of the house as soon as possible. We fled to Ghana on foot and ended up in a refugee camp there.
In Togo, my dad had worked for a road building company and my mum had been a business woman. Although we were a large family of 11, we had everything we needed. As a result, it was very difficult to transition to living in a tent in a refugee camp, especially for my mum, as we went from having everything we needed to going for days with no food. Sometimes Mum would just sit there crying and I would wonder, ‘Why is this woman crying?’ I didn’t get it at the time, but now I am a parent myself, I understand how heartbreaking it must have been for her to not be able to afford a loaf of bread for her children.
At first, the school at the refugee camp was free, but after a while our parents were asked to pay our school fees, and unfortunately they couldn’t afford it. I still remember walking past on the day my classmates were taking their final exam. I stood there for ages, looking in, imagining myself taking my exam too.
We received monthly food rations but when we needed clothes and other things, we had to sell some of our food so that we could buy them. The hardest part about that was knowing we would have to prepare ourselves to starve until the next food ration was due.
If there was nothing to do, we often just walked around all day waiting for the sun to go down. It was a hopeless way of living, especially for a young person. But 5 years later we were relocated to another refugee camp where there were refugees from all over Africa, and I was so happy there, as I could finally go to school again.
We lived in that refugee camp for 9 years. During that time, we applied to come to Australia, but it was a long process. Unfortunately, only the six eldest siblings were finally approved for resettlement, as my father had had a stroke, and failed the medical examination.
It has been 11 years now and we are still trying to convince the immigration department to let the rest of the family come to Australia. One of the things that breaks my heart is that the moment you have that refugee tag on your neck, the most important decisions of your life are made by someone else.
When we came to Albury, there were not many Africans living there, so it was a bit of a shock for the locals to see us around. The Murray Refugee group took really good care of us but unfortunately we also experienced some racism. One day not long after we arrived, we went out for a walk, and someone threw a half empty bottle of beer at us from a car and yelled at us to go back to where the f**k we came from, which really scared us. And at my first job here, at an abattoir, they treated me so badly that when we had smoko, I would go lock myself in the toilet and cry.
It’s painful when we are treated badly. But when it happens, I say to myself, ‘Well I can’t really blame you’. It’s hard for people who haven’t undergone such an ordeal to be empathetic towards me. It’s hard for them to understand that if there were peace in my country, I wouldn’t have had to leave it. And it’s hard for them to imagine the guts it takes for someone to get up and say, ‘I need to leave this place this minute in order to stay alive.’
Over the years, I have learned not to focus on racism because I have been through so much to get to where I am and I am the kind of person who prefers to persevere regardless of the challenges I face.
I’ve had many jobs over the years, including working with refugee and migrant families, but I am currently living in Wagga Wagga doing a Bachelor of Stage and Screen, majoring in acting. I feel like whenever black people are shown on TV in Australia, it’s mostly when a charity organisation is begging for donations. So I think it would be good for people like us to be seen on TV doing something that normal people are doing for a change!
I might not be white and I might not have been born here in Australia, but I am an Australian citizen, and for the 11 years I have lived here, I have contributed to society. Sometimes people complain to me that their forefathers worked to develop this land and their tax money was used to bring us here.
That’s true, but it would be good to sometimes hear them say, ‘Yes, we brought you here, but you are doing well with your life, and we are glad to have you.’
Photographer: Hayley Kotzur @hayleykotzurphotography
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#refugee #Togo #Albury #Wodonga #Australia #storiesnotstereotypes
We ARE very glad to have you, Emefa, and lucky, too. I think you will be a great success in everything you do because you have overcome so much and haven’t let ignorance and fear stop you. Looking forward to seeing your face on TV!
I listen to your story and I count my blessings. I look at my children and know that I would also do anything to keep them safe, just like your parents. I look at my family and my heart breaks that all yours arent all in the same place. I wish all Australians would take a moment to realise they are the same as you. They love their family, they want to be safe, they want to be accepted. Emefa Australia is blessed to have you, I hope your family can all be here together soon. ????
Emefa. I am glad you are here. I am sad your family is not one. I appreciate your hard work and I definitely see you as Australian. While you might not know me yet, please know there are good people here who recognise you are doing really well with your life. I am proud of you. Much love from a white person who was born here. ❤️
What an enriched community to have you in it, Australia is most fortunate, thank you for coming here are for your amazing contributions. I continue to hope for a world in which we don’t notice skin colour for any reason other than the beauty of it. Good luck with your journey Emefa.
I am so glad you are here and I hope you can be reunited with your family. Maybe our next government will have more compassion x
You are doing well with your life, Emefa! We are glad to have you. I wish you success for the future, and I hope your family can be reunited one day ????
Emefa, you are welcome and lots of us, Australians, think you are us. Everyone brings something to our society & culture. Thank you for your continuing contribution that make us more interesting and just maybe, more broad minded.
Emefa there are many of us who appreciate how much refugees contribute to our country in so many different ways. Good luck with your studies ????
It’s a shame that the negative people are the loudest. I am glad to have you! As are many people here, we might just be the ones to smile at you at the supermarket and go about our day, but we don’t say anything because we just see you as one of us. I love that we live in a country where everyone has a different story/history. My family came here because my Jewish grandfather couldn’t feel like Europe was his home anymore. Because of his decision I have a great life. I hope you and your family can have a great life too..
Emefa, I hope the rest of your family can come here so that you will all be together again.
I’m sorry for how you have been treated. When you should have been embraced.
Good luck with your study and career! X
Thankyou for coming here. Thank you for sharing your story, your energy and your knowledge with us. Thanks for calling Australia home. We need you, whether we know it or not. Thank you!
I am always so touched by the stories I read about people who have had to flee their own countries. I admire the many refugees who choose to take the opportunity to make the best of themselves. So many who were born and raised here forget how our nation came to be and that we are actually all lucky to be here. I live in Wagga Wagga, so I’m particularly thrilled to see the local connection in your story Emefa. I hope your family can all be together again soon.
Taxpayer money goes to many things. Saving people from certain death, bringing their families into our communities, where they can contribute, flourish and add to the tapestry of our world – that there is money well spent.
Thank you for sharing your story, I am glad you are here and doing well ????
What a story! Emefa, thank you for sharing. Unfortunately we do not hear enough of these stories and not educated on the conditions which some face and therefore are ignorant to the reasons.
I hope you get the rest of your family here soon and thank you for being a contributing member of society. I cant wait to see you on our TV screens!
Emefa you’d be most welcome anywhere I am! I don’t think people need to have gone through what you did to have a bit of common courtesy and decency .
We are SO glad to have you, Emefa ❤️ Thank you for sharing your story and thank you (in advance!) for bringing some diversity to our screens in the future .. wishing you the best of luck in life, your fellow Aussie ❤️
I’m so sorry some people in this country have treated you so badly. My hat goes off to you for your courage and determination and you are most welcome in our country as far as I
Am concerned ????
Thank you for sharing your story, Emefa! You are most welcome here and I am super proud that my tax dollars may have contributed to giving you a new life!
Australia is fortunate to have you and your family!
I’m so sorry my home town of Albury had people that treated you like that. It makes me feel sick to think people could treat others like that. Our African community is a wonderful asset to our community. I’ve been fortunate enough to meet lots of beautiful families through the refugee resettlement service with St Vinnie’s. I’m so glad our town is becoming more multicultural. Good luck with the rest of your studies xx
Thank you for making Australia a better and richer place. Unfortunately racism exists everywhere and it is a result of ignorance. Continue to ignore it as we need people like you and your family
Emefa I’m sorry you’ve been treated so badly and I’m amazed you’ve kept positive. I really respect you and I’m so glad you’re here too and moving forward. All the best in your acting endeavour. We so need people like you! I hope the rest of your family get to come here. As well! ????????❤️
I am glad you and your siblings are here it was a long road and you chose Australia to call your home Going through the long journey to get here
I’m sorry that you have felt unwelcome
Welcome to Australia
Hoping to see you on the small and big screens soon ????
Emefa I hope your mother and father are still well and that you will all be together soon. I admire your bravery and attitude towards negativity. You will rise above it and I wish you well in the future. Take care, Nicki.
“One of the things that breaks my heart is that the moment you have that refugee tag on your neck, the most important decisions of your life are made by someone else.”
Emefa, wishing you and your family the autonomy you deserve. Thank you for persevering and bringing your forgiving spirit to our country.
From my multicultural family to yours: You & your whole family are Welcome here.
Thank you for persevering, and I look forward to the day where POC aren’t a minority on our screens, with your strength, I’m sure you’ll have something to do with it. ????
I remember having worked a bit in Kpalimé, in Togo back in 1999. Such a beautiful country and very welcoming people. it was very commun for me to be invitated for dinner by people that I never met, on the ground that I was a stranger in town… Hospitality as its best… My host were not rich, but they would always make it very special, I had delicious snakes for dinner and I always brought some tiny French perfume bottles. I am pretty sure the bottles are empty by now but still somewhere in the house, and I will never ever forget about all the amazing people that I spent nights with, eating, dancing and laughing… A lot!
I wish people here would know how rich your country is, and that the true meaning of Hospitallity is not only a stamp on a passport… So I can just understand how it might have felt, and how it might feel some day… And if you come to Sydney, I’d love to have a coffee with you!
Emefa, your words ring true. If you’ve not seen the horrors that so many experience, having to make life and death decisions in the blink of an eye, when violence is that close you can smell it and taste it, it’s hard to fully understand the trauma it brings with it. The hardship is unspeakable. You have incredible resilience. May you continue to be strengthened and encouraged in your life walk ❤️
What an incredible story, heartbreaking but told with such dignity and honesty. You are welcome here Emefa. Thank you for all you have contributed to our country. We are fortunate to have you and your family here. I hope the rest of your family can join you here in the future.
This story was brought to you by the generosity of the NHOA supporters. Join this awesome group of individuals here: http://www.patreon.com/newhumansofaustralia
This month, all pledges of $10 and over receive a free copy of the fabulous NHOA coffee table book.
Can’t imagine living in a refugee camp for so long and then to be offered a country to live in but be separated from members of your family. I hope you can be together one day.
I am glad my tax has gone towards helping others like yourself escape war and live a better life, everyone deserves safety, care and love.
As an Australian who immigrated there when I was 2, I am sorry that you weren’t welcomed especially after your experiences.
Welcome to you and your family. I hope you continue to thrive and can bring the rest of your family over too. ????????????????
Fantastic work getting on with living your best life. I would hope everyone had the empathy and compassion to help any one of us out of such an untenable life and death situation. The world needs more tolerance and love. You are very brave and I hope you can reunite with your family soon. Good luck.
I am glad you are here and that my tax money has helped you escape from a situation that I would have trouble imagining because I am Australian and have never had to face the trauma you have faced. I hope that your children will also enjoy this privileged position being an Australian gives us. Much love and prayers for you and your family. Welcome to Australia.
I hope you don’t just be the actor telling another person’s story, but I look forward to you portraying your own stories – on stage and film. Good luck. Anything with stage and screen isn’t an easy journey – but it is an important one. I can’t wait to see the tales you have to tell on screen (or stage).
Thank you for sharing your story. Whilst we can never truly understand what you have been through, it is not hard for those of us who care to feel a level of empathy and compassion. I’m so sorry that some people have not accepted you and cared for you in our country. Good luck in your degree – you must be studying in Wagga with my daughter! What a wonderful course. I hope it brings you great joy, success and acceptance in our country. I am glad that you have ended up in Australia.
Emefa thank you for sharing your story, what a strong and courageous person you are and we are lucky to have you in Australia, I hope and pray that the rest of your family can come here too, I can’t imagine the pain it must cause to be separated, sending love x
I don’t think any of us will truly ever understand what some people go through to get to safety and countries like Australia, unless you experience first hand. Good luck with your future-makes me more grateful for what I have!
Wow. Thanks for sharing. I pray for forgiveness for those people that wrongly spoke to you without knowing you. Unfortunately people are like that everywhere. ????
Ps: I love your hair. ????
What a blessing you are to us all, thank you for your family’s story. When Australians have not travelled to other “third world” countries they have no insight whatsoever into how dishonest politicians ruin countries and people lives and cause the kind of life you and your family has gone through. Thanks you for coming to Australia via the correct route and thank you for continuing to forgive our insensibility. I do hope you get to see your father again.
What a life you have lived so far!
I’m glad you came to Australia to be reunited with your family.
I can’t wait to see the stories you will tell on the stage and screen.
Thanks so much for your understanding of those who are struggling with our refugee intake. I hope they can understand that in a role reversal, they would expect you to come to their aid?
Much love and many prayers for your continued success! ♥️D
I know people who have squandered the opportunity their ancestors gave them through the sacrifice of immigrating to Australia.
Good luck to you in this country! I wish you all the best and I wish you success!
I am so very proud to have you as a fellow Australian. I see you, and value you. Keep shining and I hope one day soon, the rest of your family can join you
I’m so happy you’re here – very glad to have you! What an incredible person to have achieved so much despite so much hardship.
I’m sorry some Australian people are racist and so caught up in their own little world that they fail to think about others. Our country is lucky to have you. Will look forward to seeing you on the screen ????????
Thanks for sharing your story, and I am so sorry you have been subjected to such ignorance and unkindness. I hope you meet more of the good out there than the bad, and that lots of wonderful times are ahead for you. I’m very glad you’re here: Australia is richer for it and you have so much to give. Good luck with your studies, and I hope all goes well with your family.
Be strong my sister you reminded me a lot we also left behind a lot of people that are still suffering but we just pretend that all is well and most of people don’t understand why most of us left our countries
I had a togolese family as neighbours. The couple met, married and had 5 children in a camp before they eventually made it here. He was a town planner in Togo. They were great neighbours. It breaks my heart how we are treating fine people who have already survived trials incomprehensible to anyone who lives here. I hope things go well for this lady now she is here and a citizen.
Emefa, you are welcome in my home anytime. Please ignore the ignorance of some of our fellow Australians, and know that most of us respect refugees from all across the globe. I wish your family could join you here, how devastating that they could not be with you. Prayers and blessings to you ????
Emefa I am not saying you are welcome here here i am saying you deserve to be here and have every right to walk on any land that covers this country. Australia may have been “settled” by england” but it was treasured and cared for by the indigenous for thousands of years before. Who has the right to say where your feet may walk. All good humans deserve to walk this earth no matter where. Can’t wait to see you on the screen!!
Emefa we are SO glad to have you here xxx I hope your family is one day reunited, I can’t imagine how difficult it must be. You are so brave and a wonderful example to all. I am so sorry you’ve had to put up with those ignorant, hateful people. Stay strong ❤️
Wishing you nothing but the best xox
Emefa, Im glad you are here. Im glad you have the opportunity to have a good life. Every human deserves that opportunity. Yes, our taxes may have “brought you here”.. but they only gave you a chance – what you did with that was up to you. Well done for overcoming so many traumas & hurdles. So many dont/cant. Your story is so inspirational. Im only sorry that you did have to flee your homeland, no one should ever have to go through what you, your family & others in similar situations have. Its heartbreaking. Not sorry you came here.. you are a shining example of an Australian. Best wishes for your future