Kajan Dev | A NZ refugee story
Kajan is a diligent young man who has found work at Auckland Airport Motel. Since the start of his employment in October 2017, I have had very little issues with his quality of work and enthusiasm to learn and grow into his position.
Kajan came to New Zealand as a refugee and from time to time, he has shared little snippets of his life story. I am constantly amazed by his NZ refugee story and the number of trials this young man has overcome in order to get to NZ and eventually join our team.
I’m glad he decided to stay with us for the past two years, and if you have ever stayed with us before and used our shuttle service in the morning, it is likely you have already met him.
Disclaimer: The autobiography below has been edited to help with sentence structure, grammar, spelling and ease of reading. Names have been changed to protect friends and family still living in fear and hardship in Sri Lanka.
My name is Kajan Dev. I was born in the small island country of Sri Lanka.
I remember my childhood being one of almost constant struggles. I have no memories of my father because he died when my mother was pregnant with me. My time with my mother was cut short because when she couldn’t provide for us, she did what any loving mother would do, she left us in the care of relatives and travelled abroad in order to secure our survival. Working as a maid, she sent a significant portion of her meagre earnings for our welfare.
It is human nature to treat those we feel are lesser than us with contempt and dismissal, so I was not surprised when the relatives my mother entrusted to care for us began to treat us badly. I understand it, really, but it still stung to see my sister suffer for something she knew absolutely nothing about.
Time went on, and we grew up in the struggle. The opportunity became available for us to be reunited with my mother, and coincidentally, my sister also got married at this point, where she moved to the Sri-Lankan capital, Colombo to live with her husband.
We were happy that she had found companionship and security, and my mother and I moved into a small house in Colombo. Despite the fact that we still lived in poverty, I thought things were looking up.
I was wrong.
When I was 11 years old, my older sister and I, along with my three month old nephew and my grandfather, were arrested by the Sri Lankan Army on account of our language and religion. As I was still considered a juvenile, I was kept isolated from the rest of my family for a year until my mother managed to meet the requirements to get me freed. My grandfather wasn’t so lucky. He died in prison, and we never got to see his face again or even tell him goodbye.
There’s something about isolation that changes you, and it’s even worse when you’re young, innocent and cannot rightfully process what you did wrong. It’s an even bigger blow when you realize that you did nothing to deserve your punishment, and your incarceration was due solely to the intolerance and evil of someone who you would have otherwise regarded as your brother.
I continued to visit the jail, along with my mother, in order to take care of my sister who was nursing her 3 month old child in jail. This continued for 6 years until they were finally released and we quickly moved to a small village where we hoped we could live peacefully. We had yet to fully process our freedom, or even complete the sigh of relief when the indescribable happened. My mother who had been the one thing holding my family together, and whose unceasing efforts had gotten my family free from the clutches of the Sri Lankan army was kidnapped by those same people when I was 11.
It was the most difficult period of all our lives. Nobody knew where we could find my mother, and we struggled to find her for months with no progress. It was painful not knowing if she was alive or dead, and we constantly faced the overwhelming guilt that we all failed her by not searching hard enough.
My family finally decided to move away from Sri Lanka as it has brought us nothing but pain and misery. We were faced with another hurdle as my brother in-law could not leave the country without permission from the Sri-Lankan army as he was still under their control. I slowly began to slip into depression. Nothing made sense to me, nothing gave me any pleasure.
When my brother in law was released and we managed to scrape together some money borrowed from family and friends, we decided to flee to Australia for a better life. We attempted to sneak into the country on a small fishing boat and we had almost reached the life we always dreamed of when disaster struck again. Our boat developed a fault and we spent a total of 98 days on the sea. We collected rainwater and begged for help from passing boats and ships to no avail. Nobody helped us.
Finally on the 98th day, the Indonesian Navy found and detained us. We stayed there as prisoners for 2 years, after which we applied to New Zealand as refugees. In October, 2014 we finally moved to New Zealand and my life since then has never been better. I learned English from Manukau, MIT, and I got to work at Auckland Airport Motel with my boss Eddie and the manager Elizabeth.
I’m doing my best as a receptionist and in this job I have come to find the love and acceptance that I always lacked in Sri Lanka. I owe all my gratitude to the team here for teaching me that there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel, that life rewards us all in the end no matter how much of a challenge we go through.
I’m still hopeful that my mother is alive and well somewhere, and I hope that the good fortune that has recently come into my life finds her, and that I’ll someday get the information I need to find her and give her the life she so richly deserves..