On crossing borders and frontline health work

On crossing borders and frontline health work

Jalel Gurmessa arrived in Australia in 2016 through the Community Sponsorship Programme after fleeing Ethiopia in 2011 and spending five years in a refugee camp in Sudan. Today he and his wife, Chaltu, are working hard on the Covid-19 frontline in a Melbourne hospital, while still studying and home schooling his own two kids.

In Ethiopia there are a lot of problems. We are a big tribe nation. I am from the Oromo tribe and for the past seven years there have been problems with the government. If you do not agree with the government, you do not have any human rights. There is no party that is separate from the government. If you do not support the ruling party, you are in danger. I was suspected of being a supporter of the Oromo Liberation Front and went to prison for about five months without any conviction or court appearances. Then I was released, then again they tried to catch me and I escaped.

I went to Khartoum in Sudan. I was there as a refugee from 2011 to 2016. That is where I met my wife, Chaltu. Eventually, I was sponsored under the Community Sponsorship Programme to come here by my uncle, so thanks to God today I am here. But I am still trying to be a voice for the people left over there. I really want to amplify the voice of those people.

When they killed (singer and Oromo activist) Hachalu Hundesa recently, they were arresting Oromo people - more than 30,000 people are in the prison. Nothing has changed since I left. They say there has been change in the Government, but this shows it’s still the same thing. If you support the government you have no problem, if you speak out and ask questions like Hachalu… all he did was ask questions on TV. This is why he was killed; these are the issues we are facing in Ethiopia.

The refugee experience was very hard, it had so many challenges. Starting from when you cross the border, you go illegally because you can’t take any passports or legal documents from the government when you flee from your country. There are many problems especially with the bureaucracy and registration. You struggle with that, and sometimes the police from that country will find you and arrest you. I was arrested two or three times.

And when you go to the UN they say they are going to follow up, but there is no response. Even they do not accept your asylum application. When the police catch you on the road, there are many challenges. On top of that you cannot work. By chance I was working, I secured some illegal work but I was the lucky one per cent. It was still financially challenging, there is so much time spent lining up, applying to the UN, applying to other organizations for aid. Even if you stop your work and you apply to them, you do not have any income and there is such limited support from them. The challenge was so much but thanks to God I got over that challenge.

I am so lucky, from the challenges I was facing over there to where I am now. I am in a first world country and a peace loving country. Beforemy uncle’s family sponsored me through the Community Sponsorship Programme, they tried to sponsor me through another government application two or three times on the family visa. When that didn't work, I applied for community sponsorship. It only took about 10 months or 11 months, I think it was good but the payment was so high, and that really made it hard, it put so much financial pressure on my family. But when I got here, the government set me up with a Newstart allowance and my uncle was so supportive, showing me everything.

Directly after about eight or nine months I was starting to work as a patient service assistant. I did a certificate of patient assistance then I was directly able to start work. I have also started to studying for my degree in nursing. I am working in the hospital two days a week when Chaltu has a her days off. Some days are difficult as I am sometimes in the Covid ward and I can like, everyone, feel a bit anxious about it all. I clean patients’ rooms, transport the patients from ward to ward or from room to room, supporting nurses on positioning of patients, that sort of thing.

My main challenge though is the workload, because I do my school online as well as look after kids, helping my son with his online education, because with Covid everything now is remote learning.

I am also a member of the Melbourne Oromo Community Leaders committee, where we communicate with members of our community through a Viber group and Zoom. We are volunteering by educating, creating a supportive environment. interpreting government updates on status.

This has been a challenging time for everyone. When you join the health services, you know the theoretical stuff for how this is meant to work, but now we understand it on a practical, real life level too. So the challenge is definitely there. But I feel happy to be able to help the community by being a member of the health service.