Living in Warrnambool is like a gift from God for African refugees Kaninda and Aimiee.

New home: Warrnambool family Jolie Kaninda, 9, Bella Mpoyo, 17, Flora Kaninda, 7, Kaninda Dijimba, his wife Aimiee Kasangi and sons Peter Kaninda, 3 and Chance Kaninda, 2, say they have been blessed with a new start.
New home: Warrnambool family Jolie Kaninda, 9, Bella Mpoyo, 17, Flora Kaninda, 7, Kaninda Dijimba, his wife Aimiee Kasangi and sons Peter Kaninda, 3 and Chance Kaninda, 2, say they have been blessed with a new start.

When Kaninda and his wife Aimee were told by the United Nations that they were welcome in Australia, the news, they said, was like “a dream”.

Having endured 17 years in African refugee camps and four years of waiting for paperwork to be processed, the pair were desperate to flee their horrid conditions.

“In 2014 I am seeing the man from the UN come to tell me your name is out, you can come to Australia now,” Kaninda said. “I feel like it is a lie or maybe a dream.”

Kaninda Dijimba and his wife Aimiee Kasangi and their five children now call North Warrnambool home – a far cry from the refugee camp in Malawi.

“My life is very hard to me, “ Kaninda said. “In my country there are many problems.”

The problems Kaninda refers to are wars, oppression, invasions and corruption that have plagued the Democratic Republic of Congo throughout its history.

In 1998 Kaninda and his father eventually escaped the trouble by fleeing on foot to Zambia.

They lived here for six years before his father remarried and Kaninda said they could no longer endure the country’s hatred of refugees.

“The Zambian people at the time did not accept refugees,” he said.

“”You Congolese must go back home” they said, “You can’t live here because you finish food in my country”,”

By 1994 the father and son were once again fleeing hatred in search of a better life.

The next step in their journey was Malawi where Kaninda would meet his future wife after years of living in squalor.

“In the refugee camps it was hard,” Kaninda said. “The people of Malawi don’t want to give jobs to refugees they say they must stay in the camps.”

Food, money, clothing and basic supplies were all limited.

“We are given one-quarter of a litre of oil for cooking, two bars of soap for washing every month,” he said. “Even the UN give us small things but it is not enough.” 

In 2006 Kaninda met his wife Aimiee Kapanga in Malawi.

The young hairdresser was working hard to support her young child and keep her safe from the lawless conditions within the refugee camp.

“It was prison,” Aimiee said. “It was not safe in refugee camp because we are all from different countries so no relationship.”

Aimiee said fellow refugees were made up of families fleeing from Samalia, Rwanda and Congo, all waiting for a fresh start in a better country.

The young mother was concerned for her safety while in the camp.

“If they know you are coming to Australia they make bad for you,” she said.

Aimiee said jealousy, rape, killings and poisonings were commonplace within the camps and she feared for her young daughter.

“The young boys maybe make pregnant so we cannot come to Australia,” she said.

The pair fled their final African atrocities in 2012 when they left with their now two young children on the back of a truck that took them to Zambia.

“Two days we did not eat,” said Aimiee. “I was pregnant and I have lots of cry.”  

Without marriage status Kaninda and Aimiee were not considered a family when applying for refuge, however without money or assets, marriage was another far-fetched dream.

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees assisted the pair with their application that was eventually successful on May 9, 2016.

“In 2014 the man from the UN came to tell us that your name is out, you can go to Australia,” Kaninda said.

“In 2016, May 9 we started coming here. May 10 we arrive.”

The friendliness and happiness of the people was something that took some adjusting for the new refugees.

“I come here in Australia then I saw first of all a police in aeroplane,” Aimiee said. “He was friendly and happy for newcomer, they said “You are welcome in Australia”.

Kaninda and Aimee were instantly impressed with their new home.

“Here there is more good conditions and security is good, “Aimiee said. “Laws (are) very good here too.”

There was just one thing that caught the pair by surprise. 

“Here in Warrnambool it was good but it was cold,” Aimiee said.

New freedom has brought an optimistic approach to life that Kaninda and his family say they will never take for granted.

“All life is a God gift”, Kaninda said. “After 17 years in a refugee camp I know this.”

The pair have just two final wishes to complete their transition. 

“We need the job.” Kaninda said. For Aimee it is family that she craves most.

“My family is suffering in Malawi,” she said. “My mum is sick. They are not safe. Every time people die there in Africa. I want to bring her here.”

Her husband agrees having the children’s grandparents close by would be special.

“Everyone is happy if they are with their families,” Kaninda said. “ Without family we have Australia but we are short of something.”