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Ubuntu – I am nothing without you

Gatluak Chuol (third from right) and family in traditional Sudanese clothing.

After a long journey through camps in Africa and advocating for fellow refugees in Aotearoa New Zealand, Gatluak Chuol is now making a difference through his role at MBIE.

20 June 2024
3 minute read

World Refugee Day is celebrated on 20 June each year – a time to reflect on the courage and resilience of refugees worldwide and the valuable contributions they make to their new homes. This week, we share the life stories of some MBIE hoamahi who come from refugee backgrounds.

Gatluak Chuol, Senior Advisor – Community Engagement, in the Refugee and Migrant Support team Immigration New Zealand Te Rōpū Manene, never thought he would be a public servant as he had so much mistrust of government. In fact, he ran away from a corrupt government in his home country of Sudan when he was just 13 years old.

After 3 months of walking, fleeing bombing and warfare by day and wildlife such as lions at night, Gatluak spent more than 20 years in refugee camps in Ethiopia and Kenya. In 1999, he met Lilian, a Sudanese refugee, in a Kenyan refugee camp and they married in late 2000.

A few years later, the family became separated when Gatluak was supporting UN staff and they got stuck in a war-torn area. In 2004, the family was accepted to come to Aotearoa New Zealand as Quota Refugees, and they arrived without Gat as they believed he had died.

Fortunately, Gatluak was able to find his family and in 2015, he arrived in Aotearoa New Zealand to be reunited with his wife and their children.

“For a world where refugees are welcomed”

After arriving in Aotearoa, Gatluak worked as a community advocate for more than 2 decades, supporting other former refugees to resettle. He loved what he was doing but applied for the Senior Advisor – Community Engagement role in 2023 because he realised that “[his] contribution would make more of a difference within the system rather than outside the system”.

Rear, from left: Remy Bucumi, Jordan Fallow, Afnan Al-Rubayee, Lillian Pak, Philippa Tomoana, Tracey Hutching, Sarah Ward, Gatluak Chuol. Front, from left: Julia Corciulo, Imogen Prickett, Alice Garner.

His role involves engaging with refugee background communities and supporting refugee resettlement groups.

Gatluak particularly enjoys working directly with community leaders in a proactive way, supporting grassroots efforts, empowering communities and ensuring former refugees have a voice. He also likes working within a diverse, multicultural and supportive team.

“I am a strong believer of the African ubuntu, which basically means I am nothing without you, that we succeed together,” says Gatluak. “Mahi Tahi reflects this spirit of teamwork. I don’t own the successes in my job because they are a result of collective efforts from colleagues and other people involved.”

For Gatluak, “It has always been about people. You live for the future and people are the future.” He enjoys spending time with his wife, Lilian, their four children and their extended family and friends. He is also very involved with his church group. His wife is very proud of him and says, “he’s a kind, caring and generous man who would always help others, especially former refugees. He makes everyone feel welcomed.”

Gatluak’s colleagues love working with him, noting he is an excellent team member and the embodiment of the theme of World Refugee Day 2024: “for a world where refugees are welcomed”.

For more information on World Refugee Day, visit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees website.

World Refugee Day 2024 — The UN Refugee Agency