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Welcome to Australia: Life Of Colorful Chin Émigrés in Melbourne

The first Chin arrivals came to Melbourne in the late 1990s. Since then, Melbourne has become home to approximately 1200 Chin émigrés.

Melbourne now has four Chin Churches. There is also a grocery store called Rangoon City, which is owned by a Chin national called Pui-i, a native of Tlangpi Village of Thantlang Township in Chin State, who arrived in the early 2000s. Now in her 39, Pui-i has done several kinds of jobs such as a cook at Italian restaurant and has learned how to survive in her adopted country before running the Rangoon City Asian grocery store in Croydon, Eastern Melbourne. The Rangoon City attracts not only Burmese residents but also a large number of Asians. She now becomes a role model and inspiration for Chin émigrés in Melbourne.
“It has become my dream to run a private business like Pui-i’s since she opened a grocery store here in Melbourne. She inspires me a lot,” said Kyawpi, who always wants and hopes that he will one day manage to have his own small business in Australia. “This is Australia, a land of opportunity. If there is a will, there will be a way. What I need is to settle down first and learn how to survive. And when the time comes, there will be an opportunity and I’ll make sure not to slip it through my fingers,” Kyaw adds.
If Kyaw doesn’t give up his dream, there will surely be an opportunity because the Australian government fully gives support to people who want to run small business in Australia. However, as Kyaw said, what most Chin émigrés need is to settle down first and learn how to survive in their new home.
In fact, Chin émigrés in Melbourne have learned quickly how to cope with their new country and lead a satisfactory life they would never been able to enjoy in Burma.
“There is no want in Australia” is a phrase that often comes out of the mouths from many Chin émigrés. “Australia is a land filled with milk and honey like the promised land of Israel as the Christian Bible refers,” is a popular line many Chin elders used to say at family gatherings and BBQ parties.
But some find life in Australia has its challenges.
“Life here is difficult for refugees, especially for those with no English,” many Chin émigrés said. Although Adult Multicultural and Education Service (AMES) offers English classes, progress is slow and some Chin émigrés left their English classes for a job before they finished 510 hours, free English tuition classes for refugees.
If they finish 510 hours, their English would have been better. But finding a job is the first priority for them. Besides, they can depend on interpreting and translating services provided for them by the Australian government.
Though there are several interpreting and translating services and enough interpreters and translators for Chin émigrés, according to sources, depending entirely on interpreters and translators has its downside.
“I’m always afraid that interpreters will know all of our secrets, though I know that they will not whisper to others” said Mang Hnin, who totally depends on interpreting and translating services every time he needs to go to Center-link, hospital, clinic, job agency, therapy and legal aid. Though Chin émigrés know that whispering clients’ secrets to others is illegal and interpreters can be sued for that, most still feel uncomfortable.
“Often I have to wait for several days to make an appointment for driving test until an interpreter is available. Sometimes, an appointment is postponed because an interpreter could not make to attend the appointment,” added Mang.
However, for finding a job, some Chin émigrés can get along without knowing much English because Chin residents in Melbourne live and work in a close-knit community.
As a matter of fact, it was through Chin community and their Chin fellows that most Chin émigrés in Melbourne got a job rather than through a job search agency.
“Whether you speak or write English is not a big deal at all, if you are healthy enough to work,” said Lai Bik, who has found his luck in the Aussie working place at meat making company, through the Chin community, where most of his fellow workers are also Chins.
“Life here is certainly better than in Burma,” said Lai Bik. “When I first arrived, I worked hard in the farm picking fruits, and then I got a job at a factory. Now I changed a job for more than three times. If you really want to work, there is always a job, even if you speak no English,” Lai Bik added.
“We work hard even if we speak little English. So the boss likes us. If there is a job vacancy, the boss comes and tells us to find him a Chin worker,” said Rung Ceu, who introduced several Chin émigrés to work in the Crown casino in Melbourne. By now, most Chin émigrés got a job at factories, hotels, farms, and have contributed their labor to the Australia work force.
Though majority of these immigrants have to work hard, they seem happy, of course, because they bear the fruits of their labor. After finding a job, they eventually settle down like Mr. Ngun Chawng.
Chawng arrived in Australia as a refugee years ago, together with his wife and children. A native of Tlangpi village, Chawng came here with no English and proper education. But after getting a job, working hard and living three and a half years in Melbourne, Chawng now lives in a comfortable house and drives Toyota Parado, a kind of car that only rich people and celebrities can afford in Burma.
It’s not only that Chawng’s living condition is improved, but also his mental condition has returned to normal, according to him and friends who know him well.
“After suffering severe torturing while he was serving as a headman of Tlangpi village, Chawng wasn’t a man he used to be for a long time,” said Salai VK Ling, a friend of Chawng, who used to live together with him in Malaysia as refugees. “I know myself that I’m back to normal,” Chawng says.
However, for some Chin émigrés, especially those who want to pursue further education in Australia, life in Australia has its downside. Though it’s difficult enough from them to cope with the language, culture and value of their adopted countries, further shock awaits them.
John Ngun Lian Hup sets off for the Australia from Chin Refugee Center in Malaysia with high hope that he will pursue further education in the new land.
“I came to Australia hoping to pursue further education, but there are many requirements for getting into University in Australia,” said John who first ended up cleaning dishes five days a week in the Crown casino in order to support himself and family back in Burma.
At the same time, he attended classes at RMIT University and Victoria University in Melbourne in order to meet the entry requirements. “Hopefully, I think I will be accepted by next year. It’s quite difficult studying and working at the same time, though,” said John.
John has still got to wait for further education until John gets qualified for the entry requirements. He doesn’t give up his hope to pursue tertiary education. But some simply give up their hope to study before they actually get through.
“I can’t wait that long to study while my family in Burma are starving. I need to work and support myself and family back in Burma,” said Pa Tluang, who got a special admission to study electrical engineering at RMIT University TAFE, but he declined the offer in order to work.
Sadly, without a certificate or qualification from Australian institutions, Chin émigrés have to put off their dream of getting a well paid job in Australia.
Though many Chin émigrés got work experiences in Malaysia as plumbers, carpenters, electricians, construction workers and so on, the lack of official certificates and qualifications prevent them from getting a job in their fields where they have already had some experiences.
“Without a certificate or qualification, you’ll be treated the same as unskilled workers even if you have got skills and work experiences,” said Mang Hu, who worked as a senior plumber, a level of supervisor, in Malaysia for many years. But to get a certificate or qualification at TAFE, an Australian institution, one needs at least to pass English proficiency Level 3 at AMES. “That’s why I ended up working at a factory,” Mang Hu added.
TAFE demands less criteria and requirements than universities and is the best pathway to getting into university. A certificate or qualification from TAFE is also well recognized among employers.
Yet, many Chin émigrés prefer working to studying at university and TAFE. To the worse, many parents don’t encourage their children to pursue tertiary education. “That worries me a lot,” said one Chin community leader.
Also, cases of drunkenness and drink-driving are on the increase within the Chin community.
Nevertheless, the Chin community in Melbourne is prospering enough to attract the Australian government to take more Chin refugees from Malaysia and India, according to sources. “It’s our new home. Even if the first generation of Chin émigrés has to struggle and work hard, our children will certainly have a better future. That’s my dream,” said Jenny Sung who expects a baby in March. Jenny Sung now enjoys a free and prosperous life which has been denied while she was in Burma. 
Lian Ding Hmung
08 January, 2009

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