Beyond the ‘refugee’ label: welcoming new people to our neighbourhoods

Felix Machiridza is a social worker, musician, human rights activist, former refugee and now an Australian – and is just one new member to a regional community that welcomes his skills and passions. He’s just one face of the many refugee success stories across our country.

“It was never going to be a walk in the park,” says Felix Machiridza, having found safety in Australia following his outspoken, honest journalism exposing corruption in his homeland of Zimbabwe.

“But I had good reason”, Felix says for speaking out. “I was contributing to the struggle for democracy and freedom in Zimbabwe through my work as a journalist – and I have no regrets. I did the right thing.”

As a journalist in Zimbabwe throughout the 2000s, Felix reported on the brutal killing sprees and human rights abuses of Robert Mugabe’s henchmen and widespread corruption. Felix knew that what he was exposing came with significant risks.

“An informed people is a powerful people and that’s why the dictatorship did everything to gag the media.”

In the days leading up to his escape from his country of birth, Felix saw one of his cousins tortured to death. He watched as his mother died from wounds inflicted by militia and state security operatives.

“This was not the Zimbabwe I remembered as a child,” he says. “It used to be a country carefree and full of promise.”

Felix himself had been on the receiving end of beatings, torture and death threats. He had often taken to the stage in front of thousands of people to voice the violence and corruption he had uncovered.

“The last time I spoke on stage it ended badly. I was abducted, blindfolded, beaten, taken to an unknown location and held captive for days,” he says. “Shortly after this incident, I recognised it was time for me to leave the country.”

Seeking safety in Australia

Felix knew that for the sake of his children and those he loved, he needed to escape.

He arrived in Canberra as an asylum seeker in 2010, and found welcome and support through community organisations such as the Canberra Refugee Support, and the Migrant and Refugee Settlement Services, as well as from individuals. “I experienced kindness and loving care, which helped me to make a fresh start.”

Giving back

Felix soon enrolled in a social work degree, which he describes as “a process of self-healing”.

“It was a way of confronting my past, and giving back to all those people who have assisted me in Australia and elsewhere that I may never meet.”

He’s a strong advocate for mental health and working with youth, and is particularly passionate about using music to create social inclusion. Before completing his studies, Felix joined the Australian Red Cross and worked with newly arrived asylum seekers. Felix is a drummer, and has used music as therapy for people suffering from mental health issues, and has turned to music to share his Zimbabwean culture with communities in Australia.

While caring for his children and working full time, Felix studied for a Masters in child and adolescent welfare, something he says he would not have achieved without community support.

a group of people holding yellow Amnesty banners standing outside Parliament House in Canberra
People celebrate the ACT Government passing a motion in support of fairer community sponsorship for refugees. © AI/ Benjamin Murphy.

Arriving in Wagga Wagga

Recently Felix moved to Wagga Wagga where he now works for an Indigenous community service as lead family therapist. He speaks very positively about his life in Wagga Wagga so far.

“It has been a really wonderful experience to be here, with my family and to be able to contribute to the life of this wonderful town.”

“There is a very strong sense of community and remarkable hospitality in this place, where everyone does their bit and helps each other out. It’s a very natural generosity and human connection. ”

Based on his own experience Felix supports new alternatives to bring refugees to Australia, such as Amnesty International’s calls for a fairer, expanded community sponsorship program. He says that there is great community capacity to sponsor and support refugees especially in regional areas like Wagga Wagga and the Riverina.

“I believe that if someone that is broken and without hope can be supported and assisted to rebuild hope and resilience, then they will not only become stronger but will make a tremendous contribution to the society that has nurtured and taken care of them as well,” he says.

 

 

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