“Imagine coming to a country where you know no one,” says Innocent Karabagega who was 20-years-old when he arrived in Australia from the African nation of Burundi in December 2012. “I am the first one in my family to be a refugee. I am also the first one in my family’s history to come to Australia.
“But before I came to Australia, I didn’t know anything about Australia – not even that it was a continent. It was quite traumatic for me at the beginning when I first arrived here.”
Karabagega tells SBS he was provided with temporary accommodation in Melbourne soon after his arrival to Australia on a humanitarian visa. Within a short time of living there, he experienced a physical assault, was robbed and hospitalised. “A group of thugs came in and took all my property. Police attended and they helped me but it was a very bad experience.”
Karabagega says that although resettlement was initially tough, life as a refugee—starting afresh in Australia with no home or family support—made him appreciate just how important it is to have a stable, safe and secure place to call home.
In early 2013, Karabagega found suitable shared accommodation for rent. Determined to earn a good income so that one day he could buy his own home to house his partner and two young children, Karabagega started studying law at university. He currently volunteers and does advocacy work for Centre for Multicultural Youth’s Shout Out Program.
Starting afresh in Australia with no home or family support made him appreciate just how important it is to have a stable, safe and secure place to call home
Karabagega tells SBS he hopes to become an international human rights lawyer and own his own home, outright.
“In our culture in Africa, you don’t rent or buy a home,” says Karabagega. “You get a house from your father. Or, if you are [starting from scratch], you buy the land and build the house and then you have a family and generations of children live in the house until they get married.
“So for me, it’s important to buy a home in the future to ensure my children and myself in old age have shelter.”
Soo-Lin Quek, knowledge and advocacy manager at Centre for Multicultural Youth says that Karabagega’s determination to attain a successful career, achieve enough financial stability and buy a home is a common desire felt by many migrants and refugees.
“For those families who come from overseas to Australia, whether they are a skilled migrant or refugees seeking a safe place, it’s probably more important than ever to have a home,” says Quek.
“Having a permanent home gives them a sense of place and a feeling that they have finally found safety and can put down roots.
“The representation of a home in the form of bricks and mortar says to the next generation of your family ‘we’ve made it and we can now give this home to future generations’.”
Quek speaks from personal experience. She tells SBS her parents—who immigrated to Australia from China—shared Karabagega’s dream to lay roots and buy a secure, permanent home.
Having a permanent home gives them a sense of place and a feeling that they have finally found safety and can put down roots.
“My parents sacrificed everything and put money aside to buy a house, so our home was the first [real belonging] we ever considered to be ours,” she says.
“[It] was the kind of sacrifice made by lots of migrant or refugee parents who worked to the nth degree to buy a house to live in. But that dream is now becoming so much more out of reach for everyone, especially migrant and refugee communities.
“I believe that if we want a socially cohesive community, securing a home is central. It needs to be a place where people feel safe and stable, and can come back to.”
Karabagega explains that although home ownership is essential, he’s aware that of the difference between buying a home and keeping a home. That’s why he will only buy a home when he can afford to pay the mortgage – so that his home will never be taken away from him again.
“It’s in the best interests of my children to have a home and I value buying a house one day,” says Karabagega. “But it must be one I can afford so that the children won’t ever be affected if I can’t pay the mortgage.
“So right now, without stable employment, my partner and I cannot commit to a mortgage. It will bring stress. So for me, at this stage of my life, my education is important. For now, it’s my priority.”
If this article has raised an issue for you or you/someone you know is in need of support, contact Lifeline on 13 11 14.
If you have experienced sexual assault or domestic and family violence, you can also receive counselling, information and support through 1800 RESPECT (1800 737 732).
Filthy Rich & Homeless season 2 airs over three nights starting on Tuesday 14 August 8.30pm on SBS. You can also stream the show anytime on SBS On Demand. Join the conversation with #FilthyRichHomeless.