“It is not the facilities that I like, but the feeling of freedom in my heart”

Taang Haangsaai (not his real name) is one of the lucky ones. He was resettled to Melbourne about four months ago. Haangsaai actually wanted to delay his resettlement because being a community leader here in Malaysia, he wanted to stay on to help his people – the Zomi from Myanmar. Only the threat that his delay would affect the future resettlement of his people made him reconsider and fly off a week after he was originally supposed to go.

But now, only four months later, he is back in Malaysia, visiting his people to give them encouragement, “especially“, he says, “those living in jungle camps“. Having visited these camps, I would have to agree. I tell them that we have to be patient and we should never give up hope.” He’s also planning on popping by at the UNHCR to thank them for all their assistance.

As I got to know a bit about his story, his advice of patience and hope is not far from his own story. Haangsaai applied for refugee status back in 2001. It was rejected. He appealed, but before he could be re-interviewed, he was arrested, put in detention and eventually deported to Thailand. Haangsaai managed to get back to Malaysia and had his re-interview, only to be arrested again, this time in 2003. Pleading not guilty, he was nevertheless sentenced to 2 whips of the cane and 8 months in prison. He was then sent to Semenyih Detention centre, the start of a 3 year ordeal where he resisted deportation, choosing instead to stay put and fight the system. Haangsaai wrote many letters to the UNCHR, was visited, interviewed, rejected again, had his file reopened, and finally, at the end of 2005, his application was finally accepted. Haangsaai had spent 3 long years in Semenyih detention centre. At one point, he was sick for more than half a year, losing weight, losing hope, losing spirit. Eventually hospitalised, he got better, and fought on.

Now he lives in Melbourne in a house with his friends. He gets an allowance of AUD420 every fortnight, which he says is “just enough“. The resettlement company paid for the deposit on the house he rented, and then furnished it. It is basicHaangsaai says, “but useful“. Haangsaai attends English classes free of charge, and later on, he can enroll in other courses to learn a skill and have some sort of certification – also free. At the end of the year, Haangsaai plans to enrol for the citizenship course, and later on, apply for Australian citizenship.

People here are very nice. You know, we are treated in our own country like slaves. Australian people are very good. Even the teenagers – sometimes they look wild, but when we say hi, they speak to us very nicely. People here are very friendly. Especially in the bus (which Haangsaai takes to go to his English course). The bus drivers greet everybody. They say hello, hi, and g’day mate. They chat to everyone. I’m trying to get into these habits because I know my face is not smiling!”

But having been persecuted in his home country and imprisoned and detained in Malaysia, Haangsaai feels something else even more precious in Australia.

When I got to Melbourne, I feel I possess my freedom. I am a free man. No one can torture me or suppress me. It is not the facilities that I like, but the feeling of freedom in my heart“.