Refugees find new life in Valley

Jo Ning was only six years old when he witnessed hostilities no child his age would wish to experience.

Born in a village in Karen in the south-eastern Myanmar, Mr Ning's family ran by foot when soldiers descended on their community with the purpose of killing everyone.

"As a child I saw people being killed," Mr Ning recalled.

"We don't know where we're going."

Ayoub Khan's family, including his son Jo Ning were among thousands of Karen people who fled ethnic atrocities in the former Burma. photograph cher jimenez

Ayoub Khan's family, including his son Jo Ning were among thousands of Karen people who fled ethnic atrocities in the former Burma. photograph cher jimenez

This was in 1997 when the Burmese government launched a major offensive against the Karen community, an ethnic minority in Myanmar.

Along the way his family lost his sister who became very ill on their journey to a refugee camp in Thailand.

They reached the camp in 16 days surviving on everything they were able to put in small bags during their escape and whatever they could find in their environment.

"I can't say if we're having dinner or lunch as soon as we're safe we try to find something to eat," the 26-year-old, who is now a Morwell resident, said.

Mr Ning said refugees at the camp lived in homes made of bamboo and everyone lived in harmony and close to each other – Muslims, Buddhists, and Christians alike.

"In that camp there were more than 40,000 families but we lived harmoniously, we built a place of worship for ourselves," he said.

Mr Ning said food was hard to get at the refugee camp although they received some supplies from the United Nations and that the children did not go to school until volunteers came in nine years later.

But it was not until his family moved to Australia in 2008 when Mr Ning learnt to speak English.

Two of his sisters were born at the refugee camp in Thailand with one currently studying a criminology course in Melbourne.

He said everyone in the Karen community was scared to move out of the refugee camp as they did not know what was awaiting them in Australia.

They were also terrified of people, especially the police because "we thought they are going to eat us".

"We've never seen a building or the ocean or the police but we're scared ... I've never seen an airplane in my life," he said.

His father Ayoub Khan said they had no idea what "human life" was until they arrived at Noble Park.

Eleven Burmese families recently moved to Morwell from the city after they were able to convert a former medical centre into a mosque.

Mr Khan said the low price of property in the town and the mosque attracted the remaining Burmese families at Noble Park to Morwell.

He urged people to know them and their difficult backgrounds and to understand that they have come to the country to live in peace with everyone.

Mr Khan was aware that some people may have a negative opinion of Muslims living in the local community but urged everyone to separate the good from the bad.

"If one person was doing wrong you can't say the whole Islam is wrong," Mr Khan, the mosque's imam, said.

Smartphone
Tablet - Narrow
Tablet - Wide
Desktop