A group of Congolese refugees have found a safe and peaceful home in Echuca thanks to the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project.
Brigidine Sister Cecilia Merrigan said she started the Rural Australia Refugees program to help local people get a better understanding of the problems facing refugees.
“I came to Echuca in 2002. As the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project’s international leader I had been very aware what was happening around the world regarding refugees,” Sister Cecilia said.
But when she relocated to Echuca, she said she had felt a long way away from the refugee action in Melbourne, and so started the refugee group.
“A series of refugees came from Melbourne to temporarily stay in Echuca for holidays, and it was one of the best things we did,” she said.
“These refugees talked to locals and changed their thinking. Told stories and change their beliefs.”
Sister Cecilia said Congolese refugee Nicole Dilubenzi was the first person to live in Echuca permanently under the Brigidine project.
“Sister Brigid Arthur – head of the Brigidine nuns in Melbourne – rang me, explaining Nicole had fled from Namibia with her three children and had been living in a motel and asked if I could take them on.”
Ms Dilubenzi said Africa was a “corrupt” place.
“The Government in Namibia asked my husband [a medical doctor] to lie on a post-mortem document of a particular woman, in which he said no,” she said.
“In May 2018 my husband went missing.”
Before her husband disappeared, the Dilubenzi family were awaiting holiday visas to visit Australia. Ms Dilubenzi’s visa was approved almost immediately after his disappearance.
“My father, he advised me to leave Namibia and come to Australia with the children,” Ms Dilubenzi said.
She said reception staff at the hotel where she stayed contacted Brigidine Sisters and the family moved to Echuca.
“It was hard at the start, we had no friends. Especially hard because I am the only Congolese woman in the community.”
Sister Cecilia found out Ms Dilubenza was a skilled seamstress. “We helped her set up a sewing room and establish a small business,” she said.
Ms Dilubenzi said she relied on her Christian faith in the tough times.
“I never lost hope and I always had a feeling my husband could still be alive, and on the 14th of February 2019, he replied to my messages. He is safe now.”
Ms Dilubenzi said she and the children now felt very welcomed by the Echuca community.