Albury-Wodonga / Durga Rimal shares his story on World Refugee Day 2019

Did you know the United Nations estimates that every minute another 20 people are forced to flee their homelands for fear of their life?

Thursday, June 20 is World Refugee Day, an opportunity for the public to get better-educated about the experience of people displaced by war, persecution and terror.

We are proud to welcome students from a refugee background to La Trobe and to support them throughout their education.

One of our many students from a refugee background is Durga Rimal, who fled his home country of Bhutan when he was five years old.

He spent almost 20 years in a refugee camp before finally being resettled in Australia.

Eight years later, Durga is a father-of-two and studying a Bachelor of Human Services and Master of Social Work at the Albury-Wodonga campus.

Oh, and he’s just been named the winner of the 2019 City of Wodonga Prize for Outstanding Contribution to Equity, Diversity and Inclusivity in Albury-Wodonga Region.

Durga told us more about his experiences as a La Trobe student from a refugee background.

Tell us about the circumstances that forced you to leave your country behind and make a new home in Australia?

At the age of five, me and thousands of southern Bhutanese were forced out of our country because of ethnic cleansing organized by the government. The government banned the teaching the Nepali language, ripped up the Nepali books and burned them. These became the major issues the minority Nepali protested, and resulted in violence towards us. Many Nepali-speaking Bhutanese were jailed, women and young girls were abused, prisoners were tortured and houses were destroyed, forcing people to leave their land and, eventually, leave their country. 

Life in the refugee camp was very tough. I survived with no food, no clothing and no shelter. Education was only the means of escape.

How old were you when you arrived in Australia? Who did you come to Australia with? Did you know anyone in Australia before you arrived?

I was 24 years of age when I arrived in Australia with my wife through the refugee resettlement program. My wife was seven months pregnant. Now I have two lovely, Australian-born daughters whom I am always proud of.

Before coming to this country, I learn that some of the Bhutanese refugees were already resettled in Albury-Wodonga region and other part of the country but I knew no-one, to be honest.

What did you know about Australia before arriving? 

The only two things I knew about Australia before arriving here were:

  1. Uluru (the biggest rock of the world)
  2. Aboriginal people were the native people of this country

What were the major challenges you faced when you arrived in Australia? (Meeting people, language, culture differences, looking for work?) 

Definitely, it was hard to get employed.

Language was another barrier, especially due to the Aussie accent.

The health and welfare system was complex to get through and my hope of pursuing further education was tough, mainly due to the complexity of the educational system.

The other challenges included racism, discrimination and judgement.

What have you enjoyed your time at La Trobe? What’s it like being a part of the La Trobe community?

I have been thoroughly enjoying every moment of my life here at La Trobe as it was my big dream to pursue a Master degree. Among my five siblings, I am only the one who has been to University and I want to fulfil the educational thirst of every member of my family.

The La Trobe community here at Albury-Wodonga is a combination of supportive lecturers, amazing staff, helpful librarians and a peaceful environment. Every morning starts with a fresh mind and every evening ends with new hope and aspiration. I feel myself proud to be part of this community and would like to extend my words of gratitude to all the members of this great institution.

What are your dreams for life after University?

I want to make this world a better place by serving the most vulnerable people who are in real need. My primary two focuses will be on working with people having language barriers in a hospital setting, and people with a disability. If I manage to, my other option is to work as a police liaison for new and emerging communities.

Besides professional life, I want to advocate for the preservation of our native language and culture as I strongly believe that language and culture are our identity and belongings.

Is there anything that Australians might not know, or misunderstand, about refugees?

Refugees are not a burden on mainstream Australian society, but an opportunity. We are honest people with nowhere to go, nowhere to live and lacking basic human rights. Therefore, we are here to live our life, exercise our human rights and offer our dedication and hard effort to make a better Australia.