“I came here looking for peace … I’m happy with everything.”
Teklemariam Mengistu would have been forced to fight in the Eritrean army if he and his family had not migrated from the North East African country to Australia in July 2013.
Compulsory conscription in Eritrea was introduced in 1955 for both males and females. The war-torn country has been referred to as the African North Korea for its bans on media and freedom of speech.
“You don’t know whether you will live or not because of the war … there was danger everywhere and sometimes they would attack the other tribes,” Mr Mengistu, now 18, said.
About 300,000 Eritreans, or five per cent of the population, have now fled the country, escaping torture, poor economy and conscription. Mr Mengistu’s family was among the people who had their visa applications approved.
Most Eritreans seek refuge in Europe however, like the Mengistu family, many send visa applications to Europe, Canada and Australia to give them a greater chance of success.
“I think they sent the forms to Europe, Canada and Australia … and you have to wait for the confirmation,” Mr Mengistu recalled.
Although Mr Mengistu was not as involved with the visa application process as his parents, he remembers having to wait two anxious years for the approval.
“It was my family, my parents … who decided to come here, and we contacted the UN and filled out forms,” he said.
“They had to have interviews and it might not have worked if they said anything wrong.
“It took around two years and you had to wait and you didn’t know if they would accept you or not.
“You just have to wait until they give you the answer, until they reply.”
Mr Mengistu now lives in Wollongong. He and his family are enjoying their new lives, they now live in a peaceful society and don’t have to constantly fear the dangers of war.
Prior to living in Australia, Mr Mengistu did not have the opportunity to access a good education.
“There are limitations for education and there (In Eritrea) was a war going on so I don’t think I would have studied there,” Mr Mengistu said.
“[My parents] feel happy because all they would think about is my education and my future and their life too.
“I came here looking for peace … I’m happy with everything.” – Rebecca Hopper and Jack McElroy