Where he comes from:
Yusuf Omar grew up in a small Somali village called Dhagabar. He remembers the nomadic life of his childhood - where his family lived surrounded by their camels, goats and sheep - as one of freedom, joy and happiness. When he was eight, they moved to the capital Mogadishu to study and attain formal education.
How he got to Australia:
In 1990, Yusuf left for Sudan to complete a Bachelor of Education and during this time the civil war in Somalia erupted. Taking after his mother who was a poet, Yusuf became politically active and composed poems (in Somali and Arabic) condemning the war and warlords, and the dysfunctional social system and clan culture. In 1995, he received a scholarship to study a Masters of Arabic in Malaysia and continued his strong opposition and criticism of the war from there. When his studies were completed, he could not return to Somalia due to his outspoken condemnation of the conflict and the dangers associated with open armed conflict. He has not been able to go back to see his family since he left in 1990. Seeking asylum in Australian was one of the few options left to him to survive.
The environment and culture that Yusuf encountered in Australia were completely different to Somalia, but his optimism and belief that as human beings we have the potential to integrate and adapt to any environment went a long way. His first impressions of Australia reflected on its beauty, space and land and the great diversity of its citizens. The biggest challenge at the start was to learn English and find employment compatible to his high education level. Later on he learnt about some of the other challenges of life in Melbourne – such as its unpredictable weather! He finds local life is very busy, with people constantly engaged with technology, communication and networking, and acutely cognisant of world events. But for Yusuf, every challenge is an opportunity to learn and grow and he has wholeheartedly embraced his Australian life.
Refugees and migrants are wonderful people who deserve to be respected and given opportunities. They have a lot of skills, ideas and experiences to contribute to this beautiful country and they should not be seen as a burden, problem or troublemakers.
Upon arrival, Yusuf completed an English language extensive course at La Trobe University. His teachers recognised his talents and encouraged him to pursue further study. He is now nearing the completion of his PhD on Somali youth perspectives at the Refugee Research Centre at La Trobe University.
Yusuf’s PhD study entails international travel and keeps most his time occupied. He is also very active in the community and was a founding member of the Somali-Australia Friendship Association to build bridges between these two communities and empower young Somalis to create positive role-models, gain leadership skills and to assist them with their education. The Association also provided a platform for young Somalis to practice democracy and has created many young leaders who work at different sites.Hobbies: Yusuf continues to write poetry and his topics of inquiry change with his life. Currently, he likes to write about diversity, love, and the strength, kindness and beauty of Somali women. He also writes articles and publishes in esteemed outlets such as The Age. These days he only ocassionally writes on political issues. When he is not writing or composing poetry, Yusuf has many friends with whom he likes to socialise. An Australian couple whom Yusuf befriended showed their appreciation of the friendship by naming their son after Yusuf.
The Somalis are a collective society and one’s family and community are very important. Yusuf recently sponsored his sister and niece to come to Australia and is also hoping to bring his brother and sister who are in a refugee camp in Kenya. He is newly engaged and although he has no children now, he hopes to have them soon!
What he likes about Australia the most:
The freedom “to talk how you like” is the greatest thing about Australia. This freedom is coupled with responsibility and an egalitarian system to respect one another. The Australian passport, with its Kangaroo icon, is a great symbol of and a means to freedom, movement and choice. Coming from a nomadic culture, this freedom is invaluable to Yusuf. He also likes the Australian education system and its basis in reasoning, rationale and creativity. In comparison to his previous education, the focus here is not on rote memorising, but on encouraging students to become responsible, self-reliant citizens.
What he misses about Somalia the most:
The things Yusuf misses about his country of birth the most are the people: the friends and family and the life they had together. He fondly remembers the streets, the fresh food (not genetically modified, or with preservatives) and the nomadic life and he regrets not having any photos from his childhood. They were all left behind or destroyed - the oldest photo he has is from Sudan when he was a university student.
Hopes and dreams:
Yusuf’s hopes and dreams for the future are to continue his academic life as a community researcher. He would like his academic inquiry to directly contribute to the community. He would also like to have a family soon and keep contributing to Australia, his chosen homeland.
Refugees and migrants are wonderful people who deserve to be respected and given opportunities. They have a lot of skills, ideas and experiences to contribute to this beautiful country and they should not be seen as a burden, problem or troublemakers. Too much time is spent talking about the negative side, but it is important to consider that refugees and migrants contribute to the labour market, academic life and to Australia’s valued multiculturalism. Yusuf is particularly concerned about the discrimination towards African people due to their colour. Scientific discovery continually tells us that every human being has a link to Africa. We all have this connection – as a family uniting and coming together.
Arrived in Australia: 1999
From: Mogadishu, Somalia
Reason for leaving:
Somali Civil War
More information — Wikipedia: Somali Civil War