Earlier this year, the Diocese of Parramatta welcomed James Atanasious as our Peace, Justice and Ecology Facilitator. James, originally from South Sudan, spent 14 years in an Ugandan refugee camp before being accepted into Australia in 2004. For Refugee Week, James has written this message of hope for people who are seeking a place of safety where they can rebuild their lives.
During Refugee Week, which runs from 19 to 25 June 2022, I would like to send my heartfelt message of hope to Refugees, People Seeking Asylum, and the Internally Displaced Peoples around the world who are doing it tough every day.
As a former refugee myself, I understand your sufferings, destitution, and cry for prosperity. No condition is permanent, and change is possible; I want you to be hopeful and prayerful for the Lord will provide. The Lord said to Moses, “Now you shall see what I will do to Pharaoh: Indeed, by a mighty hand he will let them go; by a mighty hand he will drive them out of his land” (Exodus 6, NRSV).
My experience of being a refugee stretched over many years and I went through overcoming many life hurdles. At one point, it felt like there was no way out of the conditions I use to live in together with my siblings and parents.
I lived for over 14 years in a refugee camp in Adjumani, Uganda. Suddenly life became unbearable at the camps and the future looks doomed. The insecurity inflicted upon we refugees by the Lord’s Resistance Army (a rebel extremist group in Uganda) almost had my sister kidnapped by the rebels from her boarding school in the 1990s. The drought, starvation, lack of health facilities, limited access to education, and family disconnection are some of the issues affecting people at the refugee camp I was living in.
All these issues were contributing factors to the poor living conditions in the camps. While life became harder for me, hope prevailed through the continuous prayers of refugees at the camps. Yet still, difficulties endured by refugees throughout the world are continuing.
Support for necessities came from organisations such as the Jesuit Refugees Services, and the Comboni Missionaries rendered assistance for tuition fees and basic needs. Living in such conditions at the camp was not easy.
My eldest brother Charles, who unfortunately died in 2019, brought my brother David, his family, my sister Karine and myself to Australia under the family reunion visa scheme. This is an Australian humanitarian program scheme that connects refugees with their families. The reunion with my late brother came after over 20 years of disconnection with him due to Sudan’s ongoing brutal wars while he was also stuck at a refugee camp in Gambela, Ethiopia. I arrived in Australia in 2004.
Having missed many years of schooling, my sister and I enrolled in Years 11 and 12 at Guildford Young College in Hobart, Tasmania, in the same year we arrived in Australia. Our school fees had been paid for by a Samaritan we never met. I did not have to face the burden of missing studies anymore after I arrived in Australia.
I completed a Bachelor of Arts Degree in 2008, a Master of Communication in 2010, and I am currently undertaking a Master of Theological Studies at the Australian Catholic University.
To my refugee friends and everyone living in the camps, I did not forget life as we use to live it. In Australia, I continued to work in the community sector for over 10 years, assisting vulnerable people in our community to find long-term solutions to our global problems.
I am privileged to be the Peace, Justice, and Ecology Facilitator at the Diocese of Parramatta, continuing to work on social justice issues and environmental protection.
On this International Day for Refugees during Refugee Week 2022, I pray for my friends, families, Refugees, People Seeking Asylum, and the Internally Displaced People to remain hopeful and pray for deliverance.
James Atanasious is the Peace, Justice, and Ecology Facilitator in the Diocese of Parramatta.
You can help refugees in the Diocese of Parramatta through supporting the Diocesan Food Drive or donate to the refugee organisations helping refugees in the Diocese. Find out more information here.
Find information on events taking place during Refugee Week in the Diocese of Parramatta as well as the online prayer service for World Refugee Day at 6pm tonight here.