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Australian Drama Portrays Refugees' Journey

  • Phil Mercer

"I Am Here" is being staged at the Queensland Theatre Company in Brisbane, Australia.

"I Am Here" is being staged at the Queensland Theatre Company in Brisbane, Australia.

"I Am Here" follows the journey of six young refugees as they leave behind troubled lives in Africa and make a fresh start in Australia. The play is based on true stories and premiered in the Australian city Brisbane.

The play explores the trauma they faced escaping violence as refugees from Rwanda, Congo and Ethiopia, and the stereotyping and discrimination they often endure in their adopted homeland.

One passage details the death of a refugee's mother from poisoning in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).

The actors wrote the drama as a way of thanking their adopted homeland, and also to express the dismay they feel when they are stereotyped or denied opportunities because they are refugees.

One of the play's stars, Senayt Mebrahtu, says her acting career in Australia has been hampered by her background.

"Whenever I want to audition for something there is a character description which does not fit me," said Mebrahtu. "I can bleach my hair, put contact lenses in, you know, blue eyes, but nothing else, so it is that we need to move on from being typecast as refugee or just background action as an African people. We are Australian."

Organizers say the production is aimed at building understanding between refugees and Australians.

The Queensland Theatre Company production is supported by Kerrin Benson, the head of the Multicultural Development Association, which helps refugees when they arrive in Australia.

"It is rare that I have ever met a refugee who hasn't lost a loved one or seen a loved one killed, or experienced some significant torture or trauma," said Benson. "So that is typical of all of the stories of the people that we work with. It is very rare that people haven't had some kind of culture shock in coming to Australia, and so that is a very typical part of the story. And the other typical part is how people actually transform from being defined as a refugee to just being defined as an Australian citizen with a refugee background, so all of those bits are typical in the story."

Australia has resettled about three-quarters of a million refugees since the early 1900s. Granting sanctuary to those in need has in recent years become a divisive political issue as the government in Canberra tries to stem a steady flow of asylum seekers arriving in Australia by boat.
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