Syrian Refugee Hero
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Anyone can be a refugee

Danijel reflects on his refugee experience

Danijel Malbasa grew up in a refugee camp after being forced to flee the Balkan Wars conflict of the 1990s. UNHCR helped Danijel and his family resettle in Australia, and now, he’s a Melbourne-based union lawyer and writer.

This World Refugee Day, Danijel reflects on what it means to him to be a refugee and how Every Action Counts, no matter how small.


I was five when my country died.

That’s me – white jumper mouth agape – with my twin on the floor of a refugee camp circa 1999 somewhere on the border between Serbia and Kosovo.  In no-mans-land, for neither was yet a country. Caught in the crosshairs of war.

Pictured here with our Mama, trying to make a home in a factory of strangers, waiting for resettlement in an interminable refugee “queue”. 

Of my refugee past, I have only memories (and few fraying photographs) and with each day they acquire the sepia colour of distant unremarkable events.

Slowly dissolving and disappearing into soft forgetfulness that the effluxion of time brings as a salve, leading me to doubt that I had ever lived this part of my life.

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Danijel (right) with his mother and twin brother in a refugee camp after fleeing conflict © Supplied

Sometimes, I wonder whether people care about our stories, what we lived through and what we have to say.

Sometimes, I hear them doubt the authenticity: “your war was twenty years ago, who cares what happened in some Frankenstein assemblage of a country that no longer exists?”

Sometimes I feel like people doubt my refugee story because I do not fit neatly into their stereotyped refugee categories.

When they do this, I go home and pull out my UNHCR refugee letter dated 23 January 1999 – this crinkled yellowing document verifying that a respected humanitarian watchman acknowledged our story.

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Danijel’s refugee visa – proof that someone believed his story © Supplied

This World Refugee Week 2020, my wish is for people to know that anyone can be a refugee.

That you do not even need to be in a war zone to be a refugee.

That you can be a refugee fleeing gang violence in South America.

A refugee fleeing environmental degradation and rising sea levels on our doorstep in Asia Pacific.

An LGBTIQA identifying refugee fleeing oppressive regimes in Eastern Europe or Iran.

Anyone can become a refugee; this is not a choice we make. But you have a choice in how you respond.


World Refugee Day is on 20 June. This year, the theme is Every Action Counts – that everyone has a role to play to make sure that refugees can live in safety and thrive. Here are some ways you can show your support this World Refugee Day.

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