Through the 1980s, the Salvadoran Civil War took the lives of more than 75,000 people and displaced two and a half million others1. Many of the displaced sought refuge in other countries, and Salvador Nuñez was one of them.
Since making Melbourne home in 1984, Nuñez has gained a master’s degree in Social Sciences and International Community Development. He has worked as a social worker for several vital Victorian organisations, including Footscray Migrant Resource Centre, Midway Language Centre, Prahran Community Health Services and Central American Pastoral House. His final job before retiring was leading multicultural policy development for the City of Whittlesea.
Nuñez has kept busy in retirement, writing three historical books: El Salvador: Hidden Truths, The Life of a Refugee in Australia and In search of the True Story of El Salvador .
The VMC spoke to Salvador to learn more about how he came to live in Victoria and what we can all do to help refugees and asylum seekers feel welcome.
Can you tell us about your journey to Australia?
I came to Australia in 1984 with my wife and two children. I was 35 at that time. I needed refuge because of political reasons and Australia had a humanitarian program that accepted me.
I was involved in the civil war in El Salvador against the government, which was an oppressive regime against our people. We could not live anymore in my country. It was a matter of life or death.
What were your greatest forms of support and inspiration growing up?
I was from the countryside, so my life was dedicated to study and working in the agricultural fields with my dad.
My greatest support and inspiration came from my parents. My mother and father were an example of honesty, love and sharing with other people.
The word ‘refugee’ carries a lot of stigma for some people, do you think it’s understandable that people want to move away from that, or could it be something people should be proud of?
The word refugee may carry stigma for some. From my experience, that comes from people who believe refugees are not genuine, that they just said that so they could come to Australia or other countries. I have seen people who do not want to call themselves refugees because of that perception. I totally disagree with the stigma.
In my humble opinion, I am very proud of being a refugee, because it gave me the opportunity to take my family and myself to freedom and, as I say, live one day more.
What can Victorians do to help make life better for refugees who settle, to help them thrive in our community?
Victorians can do a lot to support refugees. They can welcome people, try to understand our traumas and our experiences as people, just like anyone in the community. Offering opportunities to learn English, to find a job, get housing and just welcoming them into the local community is important.
Many of us are professionals or have good qualifications. We’re people who want to work and contribute to the new society we find ourselves in. We are just people that need understanding.
1 As quoted by Salvador Nunez in El Salvador: Verdades Ocultas (El Salvador- Hidden Truths). P.454.
Reviewed 23 June 2021