Grieve: Roland Kalamo

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Published Tuesday, September 4, 2018 | Share:

I rise today to speak on behalf of Roland Kalamo, a Congolese man who has settled in Mount Gambier with his family since 2017 after living in Kenya in a refugee camp for four years. Roland learned English from reading a Bible at the refugee camp. At 30, he is fluent in seven languages and has worked as a newspaper, radio and television journalist in his country and is a strong advocate for social justice and human rights. He is a full-time volunteer, working at two Mount Gambier schools and working at the Red Cross to trace family members who have lost touch through war or displacement.

Roland came to talk to me, on behalf of the migrant population of Mount Gambier, about problems finding suitable housing and education, wanting to work independently of benefits, building a better life for his family and becoming part of our great community. He spoke strongly about being labelled a refugee and about the migrant community working together to achieve better outcomes in regional communities. Roland talked about becoming Australian, saying that he will never return home and that this country is now his home. I feel that his words are important, and I am going to quote them now. These are Roland's words, which I want recorded in Hansard:

"Every human being wants to feel 'at home'. Everyone wants to feel accepted and have equal access to, and enjoy, the opportunities that society provides to be able to contribute to this beautiful country.

As one of the people living in Australia who recognises my history of immigration, I pay tribute to the native people of Australia. Jambo. Hello.

Being a recent migrant who is also still called a 'refugee', I thank the Government of Australia for their contribution to resettling people from refugee camps and giving them a chance to have a place to call home again.

While I feel safe here, I refuse to still be called a 'refugee'.

Being called this makes me feel isolated and that I don't belong. As well, I don't feel I am accepted or equal; it makes me see only limits in everything.

Even calling me a future Australian does not fully express who I am.

Becoming an Australian is the dream of the majority of people who have migrated here. Becoming Australian makes migrants feel at home, feel accepted and believe that they belong here.

Learning English, getting recognition for overseas qualifications and becoming educated will help migrants get citizenship, find jobs, and integrate into the Australian community.

Many institutions are working to help that transition but they are more focused on what they think migrants have to learn. They believe they know what migrants need and they decide without involving the migrant in the decision-making process. Many migrants have been learning English for more than two years and yet they can't speak good or useful English. Consequently, they will not even try to apply for citizenship and if they do apply without good English their application has a greater chance of being rejected; therefore they won't get employment or further their education.

When a migrant finishes the 500 hours of English language tuition they are sent to find jobs. The agencies who assist with employment send migrants to internet websites but without information and technology skills they cannot find jobs on websites.

I suggest that the Australian Government revisit the adult education system for migrants, especially the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP), to develop a process that allows migrant communities to be involved in curriculum design and teaching.

By doing that, the Australian Government will be helping migrants to learn what is important for them; that is, to learn what it means to be Australian, and then set about becoming one. This will result in migrant communities being able to contribute to, and participate in, the Australian culture, making Australia a better place for migrants and for all Australians.

I am sure then migrants will start feeling at home and accepted and will be better able to focus on the opportunities that this beautiful country offers."

I want to thank members of the house for listening to Roland's words. I committed to Roland when he came into my office that I would get those on Hansard. He is a very intelligent, hardworking migrant in our community. As I have said before, he volunteers at two schools and with the Red Cross, helping the community and helping other Congolese families in our community. With those words, I thank the indulgence of the house.