* Not his real name
Like many refugees, Suleiman fled his home country in north east Africa in fear of his life.
He made a long and difficult journey to Australia, ultimately to arrive at the doors of Foundation House in Melbourne in 2013.
Refugee stories may have many aspects in common, however Foundation House recognises our clients as individuals beyond the circumstances of being a refugee.
In Suleiman’s case, the difficulties of his journey were compounded by childhood traumas, and issues of gender and sexuality.
Personal and political persecution
Suleiman had a difficult early life.
“I am born like this. My mum, she looks all the time like she understands me,” he said.
“My dad, he’s a strong man, a religion man, I have a problem with him. The imam, I have big problems with him. When I went to high school, I have phobias, I can’t believe people. I go to school, then straight to my home,” he explained.
Political and personal persecution intersected when Suleiman was a young adult, and police tried to coerce him into reporting on local gay people.
“They say, ‘If everyone know you are gay, you have big problem, you are blacklisted’. I said, ‘I can’t, I don’t have information about this’. They said, ‘You are not right, you are bad’,” Suleiman said.
Political turmoil was also increasing in his home country until he feared for his life.
“I have one friend. He gave me passport. He told me ‘Maybe you die, you can’t live your life here’. He told me to go Cairo, ‘Maybe you can save your life’,” he said.
In 2003, Suleiman went to Cairo and was processed by the UNHCR as a political refugee. He found work with people with disabilities.
Life in Cairo was still not easy, though, and Suleiman was beaten and robbed more than once. He was also threatened with death on three different occasions. He found it even harder to understand this continuing persecution.
“There are more people in Cairo who were gay, wearing clothes of a woman… I think, why [persecute] me? Maybe because I am black. Maybe because I seem weak. I am all the time crying. They take my money, three times they take my phone,” Suleiman explained.
He became fearful of going outside.
“I have bad heart, depression, not believe myself, not looking for job,” he said.
Fortunately, Suleiman found a sympathetic doctor in Cairo, and with his assistance he came to Australia in 2012.
Though things were better, it has been difficult for Suleiman to find a place where he feels safe and comfortable to settle. Housemates were not necessarily sympathetic.
“They give me a hard time. They say, ‘Africans are not gay!’” he said.
“Even if I not tell them I am gay, I cannot be myself,” he explained.
A step into the light
In 2013, Suleiman was referred to Foundation House by his doctor and saw Carolyn, a Counsellor Advocate. He also had access to a psychologist at Foundation House along with massage and natural therapies through our Complementary Therapies.
“Carolyn, she listens to me, give me hopes, solves many problems,” he said.
“One year ago, if I saw people talking, I am thinking, he’s talking about me. I have bad dreams,” Suleiman explained.
“It has really changed my life. My bad dreams―90% gone. Depression, going. Stress, going. My studies―I was always forgetting, can’t keep it in my head. Now I save all my information,” he said.
Suleiman still has not found a permanent place to stay, and currently shifts around various homeless accommodations. But despite his hardships, he feels more able to cope.
“It is hard to make friends, because I am homeless. But now I have hope. If I have a problem, I can fix this, I am not running away, not crying. My life has changed. I feel like I am born a new person,” he said.
In sharing his story, Suleiman also wanted to highlight the importance of talking to someone when you are struggling.
“A doctor, a psychologist can help you with your problems if you give them a chance,” he said.
“If you keep silent, if you do not give him chance, if you stay alone, if you cry, it is not good. If you go step by step, tell him all your suffering, they help you. But if you don’t tell, they can’t help you,” he said.
“A person has problems, he needs one person to take his hand, from the dark, and he is in the light,” Suleiman explained.