Australia for UNHCR is fortunate to count many former refugees among our staff. Their firsthand experience of displacement and the work of UNHCR make them powerful advocates for refugees and help ensure that we are, in every sense, a refugee focused organisation.

This World Refugee Day, three staff members share their experiences and describe what the day means to them.

Digital Campaign Coordinator, Vesna Samreth, was born in a refugee camp in Thailand after her parents fled Pol Pot’s regime in Cambodia.

“I don’t remember the camp the way my parents and older siblings do – we were resettled in Australia when I was still a baby. My first memories are of living in the army barracks, where all the refugees were put, near Cottesloe beach in Western Australia. Everything was new and strange and my parents thought the food was terrible. Growing up, I never heard about the conflict we fled in Cambodia – it was too traumatic for my parents and brothers to speak about.

“I don’t take anything for granted and I know I was very lucky to be among the one per cent of refugees resettled in a third country. My parents always helped younger Khmers who lost their parents or families, and this was probably why I gravitated towards working in a role that supports refugees – I want other people to have the same support and opportunities that I did.

 World Refugee Day reminds of my roots each year, and reminds me why my job with Australia for UNHCR is so important.”

Digital Campaign Coordinator, Vesna Samreth


Akon Dhel, a Face to Face Fundraiser

Akon Dhel, a Face to Face Fundraiser, was born in Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya after her parents fled conflict in South Sudan.

“I remember a few things about Kakuma camp, like how sick I was and how hard it was to get food sometimes. I don't remember as much about the struggles as my mum does.

“Resettling in Australia was hard for me as a six-year-old. I didn't know much English and the only life I knew was the camp. Facing racism and bullying made living in Australia even harder. But with help from my mum, I came to understand why I was here and that Australia was a place of opportunity and a chance to make something of myself.

“I have become the only one in my family to finish high school. Australia has given me the chance to set a path for my siblings, and for what is right. Being in Australia, and my role with Australia for UNHCR, has given me a chance to have my voice heard and to make a difference in the refugee community.”

As a child, Face to Face Fundraising Team Manager, Yai Marach, spent years separated from his family when they fled their village in South Sudan.

“I left South Sudan when I was under 10 years old after our village was raided by militias. That was in 1992, and I was separated from my whole family. I didn’t see any of them again until 2010. 

“To begin with I stayed in a camp for internally displaced people on the outskirts of Khartoum, and from there I went to Egypt. It was from Egypt that my life-changing journey began, and with the help of UNHCR and the Australian people who opened their hearts, I was able come to this great country with golden hearted people.

“On World Refugee Day we should remember those who perished searching for better life, and keep working to save the lives of those still under threat of war, disease and poverty. I’m working with Australia for UNHCR to do my part and I am inspired by the people I meet who sign up to support refugees. I urge all people of goodwill worldwide, and Australians in particular, to join hands with UNHCR and help those who are still struggling for their survival.”


On World Refugee Day, you can help change the life of someone forced to flee.


Face to Face Fundraising Team Manager, Yai Marach

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