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An open letter from a reluctant refugee

By Thu-Trang Tran - posted Tuesday, 29 July 2014

This flurry of words has been in the making for two decades. They poured as I read story after story of our government's ruthlessness.

I am a refugee.

I don't speak of it freely.The word has not sat well with me, except when I was a young girl in Vietnam.


In Vietnam, our family were 'nguoi vuot bien', literally, person exceeding boundary.

As a seven-year-old, this brought images of adventures to places afar.

Hearing whispers of ships, pirates, oceans, islands, America the land of plenty, and Australia full of cuddly and bouncy animals, I dreamt of going on a 'trip'. I sensed the fear and danger in those hushed adult conversations.

But as a tomboy, I imagined danger as made up of thrilling, scary (of the monster kind), eventful quests heroes take to discover foreign lands. I did hear the losing life and limb stories, but as child, I could not have truly comprehended death when I have not seen it.

Yes, some neighbours did not return. I only understood that they left to go somewhere, and that somewhere - 'nuoc ngoai' (foreign country) - was better, freer.

My chats with my grandma were all about the things I would eat and do over there. 'Snickers' were a rare chocolate treat from my uncles in Australia. I wanted to eat Snickers often.


Then I learnt what being a refugee meant.

In the Malaysian Detention Centre, we were all in the same boat, we were waiting to be 'processed'. 'Refugee' was a bureaucratic label that would determine our destiny, and that would give meaning to my parents' sacrifice.

Our destiny determined, in Australia the Lucky Country, I learnt that a refugee was grateful, 'disadvantaged NESB' (Non English Speaking Background), and 'Fresh Of the Boat'. Being a FOB was ego crushing for a young girl – I was daggy, with bad accented English, and sartorially backwards. (In the 1990s, St Vinnies carried second-hands, not trendy vintage).

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Inspired by my young nephew who writes to change our world for the better.

For my parents, who dared, risked and sacrificed beyond comprehension.

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About the Author

Thu-Trang Tran holds a senior strategy manager role in the Victorian Government. She is completing a PhD on wisdom in public policy in Australia and China at the University of Melbourne. Her family came to Australia in 1988. She tweets at ThuTrangT.

Creative Commons LicenseThis work is licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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