Refugees of persecution find hope in Australia

Lewis Freer, GERALDTON GUARDIANGeraldton Guardian
May Doncon with husband Phil and sons Liam, 6, and Matt, 9. She says finding Geraldton was better than winning Lotto.
Camera IconMay Doncon with husband Phil and sons Liam, 6, and Matt, 9. She says finding Geraldton was better than winning Lotto. Credit: Lewis Freer

Geraldton woman May Doncon doesn’t buy lottery tickets — she says she won the lottery of life to live in Australia. Lewis Freer speaks to her about how life could have been vastly different.

May Doncon says her future would have been bleak and a life of poverty would have ensued had she stayed in Iran.

“I left Iran with my family when I was nine years old. My parents literally had to escape the country to avoid jail and possible execution,” she said.

“If we were still in Iran we would have been denied education and employment and destined for lives of poverty and misery.

“We have been able to reach our full potential in Australia and are all in a position to be active and productive members of the community.”

May said this was the case with most refugees and their children she had encountered.

“Unfortunately, refugees are often portrayed in a negative way in the media and their potential in the long-term is ignored,” she said.

“We are members of the minority religious group Bahai Faith, whose members have been persecuted in Iran since the Islamic regime overthrew the shah of Iran.

“My grandfather was in jail for three years, tortured and executed.”

May said her parents lost their government jobs and she and her sisters were banned from school.

“We had our passports confiscated so we had to escape over the border to Pakistan,” she said.

“While there we registered with UNHCR as refugees and started applications to any country who would take us.”

After two years, May and her family were granted settlement into Australia and moved to Perth in 1985.

Thirty years on she says everyone is very much integrated.

“The first few years were very tough and we had to learn English and start our lives all over again, ” May said.

“We had also missed a lot of schooling and took a while to catch up, however, eventually we learnt English, my parents got jobs and now own their own homes.

“Despite our educational disadvantages, my younger sisters and I were able to … finish school, go to university and find and keep jobs.”

May said that between them, they have nine university degrees.

“I’m a mental health social worker and now the manager of my organisation’s mental health service,” she said.

“One of my sisters is a GP, specialising in Aboriginal health and the other is a lawyer.

“We all live and work in regional and rural areas of Australia. I have lived in Geraldton with my husband and two sons for the past 12 years and I love this place.

“Without the chance to come and live in Australia … our lives would have been very bleak and miserable.

“UNHCR estimates that at any given time, there are 50 million refugees and displaced people in the world and only about one per cent get successfully replaced. I guess (that) means I have won the lottery of life.

“That’s why Australia Day is like a thanksgiving day for me and I am forever grateful to be here. I know we have problems in this country … but we also need to stop, reflect and be thankful.”

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