Refugee Alternatives Conference - Self Representation

Refugee Alternatives Conference - Self Representation


Apajok BiarBorn in a refugee camp, Apajok arrived in Australia from Kenya with her family as a curious 2-year-old. At 23 she has just completed a Bachelor of Social Work at Western Sydney University and volunteers at her local community centre engaging with refugee young people, and is chairperson and co-founder of South Sudan Voices of Salvation Inc, a not-for-profit (NFP) youth-run and led organization.

A youth advisor for Multicultural NSW, Apajok advocates for South Sudanese youth, speaking up publicly against all forms of injustice and violations of human rights.

Om Dhungel.Formerly a refugee from Bhutan, Om is now a consultant and a practitioner of Strength-Based Approach to refugee settlement and community development. Om is a Director on the Board of Asylum Seeker Centre and a Member of NSW Police Multicultural Advisory Council. 

Om applied for 53 jobs before being successful. He recommends local training and qualifications,  local experiences including volunteering and local references.

Mebrahtom Yabio,  (Tom) is of Ethiopian heritage, born in a refugee camp in Sudan. He came with his family to Adelaide, October 1995, where he had family already living.  In 2007 the family moved to Melbourne for better education and work opportunities. After graduated from Victoria University with a Bachelor degree in Accounting in 2011 Tom secured a place in the National Australian Bank through the Australian African Inclusion Program soon after. He had played soccer at an elite level representing the South Australian under 15 State team and during his time at NAB he continued playing local soccer.

In 2016 he founded the NFP sports organisation Football Empowerment based in the Western Suburbs of Melbourne. The organisation aims to address the social issues facing young people from disadvantaged communities by using soccer as a ‘vehicle’ for change. He is an active member of My Community Voice – organised by MiCare (New Hope Foundation) Action Forum & Network in the West


The overall message from these three speakers in relation to helping refugees after arrival was:

  • it’s essential to “force” self-representation;
  • work with them; don’t just give them skills;
  • draw on their strengths and assets;
  • however, don’t just set them up and leave them – come back with feedback and advocacy;
  • “I’m speaking for the voiceless” sounds good, but it only helps the fringe element;

Use the following Guiding Principles:

  • Sympathy provides a barrier in the long term.
  • Resettlement in Australia is excellent but we must move from dependency to independence.
  • Engage people with the lived experience to help.
  • Use service providers and take a collaborative approach by bringing people together.
  • Respecting their origins, empower them to help themselves with issues.
  • Go beyond the story - push them to help themselves.


Yiombi Thona   (This link that is different from that used for Day 1 Session 1)  After working as a National Intelligence Officer in Congo for more than seven years, he was forced to flee his country and was granted Refugee Status in South Korea. He has worked in factories, in a hospital as manager and in NGOs for Refugees as coordinator and researcher.

He talked about the category of Statelessness which refers to people who are not recognised by any country, such as an estimated 10 million Rohyngas made stateless by the Myanmar Government driving them out, and Sudanese who end up in the wrong half of Sudan.

Khalid Hussain  is a human rights lawyer and the Founder and Chief Executive of the Council of Minorities, a minority rights based organization in Bangladesh. Khalid belongs to the Bihari Urdu-speaking linguistic minority, a formerly stateless community of Bangladesh, and during his career he has accrued extensive experience in ending the statelessness of Bihari- Urdu Speaking community in Bangladesh.


To bring this report to a conclusion, let me say I found this last presentation very interesting but overwhelmingly sad. While the UNHCR wants to eradicate statelessness by 2024, stateless people are not covered by the Global Compact.

On the other hand, my overall feeling after the Conference was one of hope. There are so many good people doing so much good work. In particular, I feel confident that Murray Valley Sanctuary performs its refugee support in line with the guiding principles highlighted in the presentation Getting Serious About Refugee Self-Representaion.

Sharon and I say "Thankyou" to the Executive for giving us this broadening experience.