I want to share Nirma’s story which was posted on New Humans of Australia. Nirma (that’s him up there) is one of four chefs at the hugely popular Tamil Feasts (held at CERES every Monday and Tuesday) and he also works as part of the packing crew at the Fair Food warehouse.
I am a Tamil refugee who was in a detention centre for six and a half years. In 2009, I left Sri Lanka on a small boat with thirty others. The journey took nearly one month – we were very seasick, and for the last two days, there was no food.
I started off on Christmas Island and then I was moved to a detention centre in Melbourne, which was much better, because we could have visitors, and church people came so we could share our story, our pain. In the detention centre, I started taking strong sleeping tablets. When I took the sleeping tablets, I didn’t know what time it was, what I was doing, what I was eating. Then, after being awake for three hours, I would take one again. It was good because we didn’t have to think about anything else, we were only focused on sleeping. Sometimes people saved them up and tried to kill themselves. After that, we had to show our ID, and get just one each time.
Sometimes, I still can’t sleep now because I am thinking, thinking, thinking too much. I try to forget my past life, but I can’t. One small thing brings everything back. Living in 200 square metres for 6 years – it was like being in a prison – I could see around the fence but I couldn’t go there. I can’t get those years back again. I lost my family, I lost my education, I feel like I lost my life.
A year ago, I was released into Community Detention, which means I can be free in the community, but I still don’t have any permanent visa. Now, I’m a chef with Tamil Feasts. We make a dinner for Aussies twice a week and share our stories and our culture with them. There are many, many stories – most of the chefs were in a detention centre for more than 6 years, so we have our sadnesses. But the people love our food, and I feel happier, because I see new people, and new faces, and it helps me to forget.
Getting a regular job in your new country means you can care for your family, establish friendships, restart a career and just provide a sense of belonging. Sadly new migrants, including asylum seekers, have up to four times the rate of unemployment as mainstream Australians. Sitting around with nothing to do and no income isn’t good for your mental health at the best of times – so a job can be a literal lifesaver.
If you’re in a boss-type position and considering giving work to an asylum seeker our experience at Fair Food has been that people who have escaped war to rebuild a life in Australia are, by necessity, highly motivated, resourceful and resilient. We find that these qualities are actually a competitive advantage to Fair Food and that as much as they need a job from us, we need their humility, their ingenuity and their determination to succeed even more.
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre runs an employment service if you’d like to know more.