Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW
Warrane College UNSW | college accommodation for students at UNSW

Refugee shares his story with Warrane residents

David Delaney’s talk after formal dinner

When refugee Mr David Delaney shared his story with Warrane residents on Wednesday 25 September he left very little doubt that a refugee camp is not a pleasant or safe place to be.

Mr Delaney spent more than 10 years in a camp after fleeing war-torn Sierra Leone. He spoke of the constant fear of death by starvation or violence in an environment of extreme poverty.

For him, he said, the danger was symbolised by the theft of his only pair of trousers after he left them out to dry one night.

“When I woke and saw that my pants were no longer on the line I felt very afraid,” he said.

Mr Delaney described a life of complete desperation, relieved only by his strong faith in divine providence – a strong belief that God would eventually rescue him and his family.

His early years in Sierra Leone, he said, had been very happy. He was brought up by his grandmother – a “staunch Anglican”, but life changed dramatically when civil war broke out.

“In 1991 I ran away to Guinea,” he said.

His situation in the refugee camp was made more difficult than usual by the fact that he was an English speaker in a camp where French was the common language.

He said that even trying to buy the simplest items in the local market was a challenge. Something that normally cost a dollar could get inflated to $20.

But it was in the camp that he met his wife Daphne and despite the adversity they made a conscious, and very brave decision to have their first daughter, Princess.

He said that he prayed for many years to find a way out of the camp, but it wasn’t until a Red Cross worker who was visiting the camp discovered that Mr Delaney had an uncle living in Australia that things started to happen.

After a long search, his uncle was finally tracked down and initiated the lengthy process of filling out forms and satisfying legal requirements to bring him and his family to Australia. One of the main hurdles was to demonstrate that he was healthy.

“At that time I was really skinny because I was not getting enough food and so I started to do all I could to eat more and to drink more water,” he explained.

Mr Delaney confessed that after he arrived in Australia and saw all the food that had been thrown in a rubbish bin in a shopping centre he was moved to tears, remembering how desperate his fellow refugees were to eat anything at all.

“Here in Australia we have more food than we can eat,” he said. “Now I have food and clothes and freedom.”

He said that he was still adjusting to this new life.

“I have been told that it takes five years,” he said. “Actually it is a process and I am still going through the process.”

Asked during the question-and-answer session how he felt Australia’s refugee resettlement program could be improved, he said it was important to look at whether people have a “genuine reason to come to Australia”.

“Some people don’t have a genuine reason to come and settle here,” he said.

Now that he was settling into Australian life, he said his main ambition was to become a minister of religion.

“I am looking for God to open doors,” he said.

Since settling in Australia, David and Daphne have had a second daughter, Prescious, and he is now a volunteer worker with the Salvation Army, based in the Sydney suburb of Auburn.

[Warrane College offers more than just accommodation to students at UNSW: Details of other guest speakers are available here]