Mark Zirnsak, who also attended the conference, interviewed Pacifique about the conference...
Can you tell our readers something about how you ended up in Australia?
I was studying law at a university in Burundi and in 2010 I became involved in leading a student organisation of 10,000 members. It was a time when the government was killing students because they were demanding civil rights and an end to the killings of other people asking for change. I was speaking publicly and to the media. I was imprisoned a number of times. In 2011 I was abducted by Burundi security forces, imprisoned and tortured. After I was released I went into exile in Uganda for seven years. Life in Uganda was hard. Uganda was hosting almost one million refugees. I was Frenchspeaking and English is the language used in Uganda, so the language barrier made it hard. It was very hard to access school due to the language barrier. It was a hard time for refugees, with their children not at school due to the excessive fees, lack of food, lack of school supplies and the language barrier. It was a miracle that I ended up in Australia. As a refugee you do not know when you might be called on and offered a refugee place in another country. It can happen at any time. It is then a lengthy process that can take two to three years. You need to go through a medical check-up. I was sad to leave behind members of my family, but glad to go to Australia. After seven years in exile in Uganda I came to Mildura on 11 April 2018.
What were the highlights of the Refugee Alternative Conference for you?
The best thing was the commitment of the Refugee Council of Australia to give a platform for change to Australian refugee policy. It is better where refugees are not seen as simply a source of information, but rather as a partner for the change. Refugees know what they need. As Ghandi said: “Whatever you do for me but without me, you do against me.” People now have the consciousness to allow refugees to be partners in leading the movement for change.
What do you plan to do as a result of being at the conference?
I will use the ideas from the conference to continue advocacy around education and human rights impacting refugees. I will work with media and other partners so people know of the needs of refugees. I will continue to work for my community and other refugees.
Is there anything you would like to add?
I would like to say thanks to the Uniting Church, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. Without their support I would not have been able to attend the conference. I hope to continue the partnership to bring about change in Australia and in Africa where I have family and there are other refugees.