19 June 2024

Selam’s biggest motivation to seek refuge was a safe life for her daughter, Liya.

Image: A close up of Salem holding her daughters hand. They are both wearing black jackets.

Selam* had a successful career in her home country and never thought she would have to live in another part of the world.

“Ethiopia is a poor country, but if you have work, it’s a comfortable country. I had a good job as a social media influencer. I have a good society there. I don't have plan to live outside my country because I have good work and family there,” said Selam.

The problem, Salem said, is that Ethiopia is not a safe place.

“No peace always. You are expecting ‘is something going to happen?’ I’m here so my daughter doesn't have to live that life."

"She is the reason to be strong. Because I have the responsibility to do good things for her. So I will be strong for her,” said Selam.

Selam met her ex-husband, who is an Australian, and they had Liya five years ago. Selam and Liya moved from Ethiopia to Sydney to be with her then husband, but the marriage broke down not long after they came to Australia.

“After we broke up, my plan was to return back to Ethiopia. But in Ethiopia, there is genocide,” Salem shared.

Selam's father then told her that her brothers were missing.

“I don't know where they are. I'm guessing they are in jail, I don't know because there is genocide, so I don't know where they are."

"My father said to me, ‘I'm looking for them, but I didn't reach them’, I hope they are fine somewhere. So after that, I'm afraid for my life and my child. So I ask for asylum to stay here,” said Selam, with sadness.

Luckily, the Asylum Seekers Centre found temporary accommodation for Selam and Liya.

“We are staying at hotel for like two months. I get a services payment so that help us to get some food...so that's so helpful,” she said.

“We feel loneliness, but we are strong.”

Not long after, Selam was connected with Life Without Barriers' National Immigration Support Services and started working with a case manager, Charlotte. Charlotte supports Selam in navigating setting up a new life in Australia.

“After that I meet Charlotte, so she helped to assist me with things I need. She helped me a lot. She fixed our Medicare card. She helped with finding day care for Liya.”

As grateful as she was to have the hotel room, Selam was keen to find a home to live in.

“In the hotel we stayed in one room. There's no kitchen, no cooking. That's the difficult part, because I have child.”

"When I find a house, she [Charlotte] contacts them and talks them.”

Selam attended all the inspections by herself. She found a room in a home that she liked but was unsure of how to secure the room. She had lost out to another applicant in the previous room she applied for. Charlotte was determined to get Selam the place, so she contacted the landlord and explained how Selam was ready to move in and that the Asylum Seekers Centre would pay the bond and first months rent. It did the job - Selam signed the lease and has moved in.

“I have found Selam to be brave, resourceful, motivated and capable – she does a lot by herself." Said Charlotte.

"Unfamiliar with Melbourne, she was still willing to go out and inspect properties on her own to find a good home for Liya.”

Once housed, Charlotte referred Selam to a not-for-profit organisation that provides material help to asylum seekers, to get a new bed.

With Charlotte’s assistance, Selam sought help to get a special benefit for Liya. Selam needed to explain how she did not receive financial support from her ex-husband and she had no other source of income.

With the benefit, Charlotte and Selam are now close to getting day care for Liya, and this means that Selam can do the next thing on her list of priorities.

“I want to work. I don't have a preference. I will do anything. Once my daughter's childcare is approved, I will start looking for a job. I have work visa,” she explained.

Charlotte is also supporting Selam with her job search. When asked if she would like to learn a new skill, Selam said, 'I would love that.'

This year’s Refugee Week theme is ‘Finding Freedom: Family'. When asked what family means to her, Selam said, “Family is like a big support. Like when you happy or when you have your sadness, when in all life, always family are a big support.”

Selam is extremely grateful to her new Australian community.

“The people are nice, they like to communicate, they are great. When I'm asking something, I'm not good at English, but they are understanding me. They help me. So that's good.”

We asked Selam what she wished more people knew about refugees and asylum seekers looking for a better life in Australia. She said that people come here to find safety.

“It's not that easy to create new life in new country. But our country is not safe. When you walk around or when you at home, always in fear because it's not safe."

"So when I come here I'm feeling safe here. Like we save our lives here.”

*Names have been changed to protect the people Life Without Barriers supports.

Support for Refugees and Asylum Seekers

Life Without Barriers provides services through our National Immigration Support Service (NISS)

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