I am Yvonne Evarts, from Sri Lanka, and I have a son Geoffrey in Sri Lanka, and Keith, 14, and Caroline, 21, in Australia.

This is my second life. I have been given a second chance to live. You have to go through that then you think I have to give something back to the world .In Colombo I lived with my husband, Graydon, and three children and I had a business doing hair and beauty therapy. I had never dreamt of coming to Australia.

Suddenly my life changed forever. I was wrongfully arrested as a terrorist. One day at 6am the police came around and arrested me. I was in jail for 7 days. When I was released I was in hiding for 3 months, staying with friends and family, moving all the time. Finally I had to decide within 3 days to flee Sri Lanka and leave behind everything we had built up over 22 years. Some of my family lived in Queensland and finally I came here with my son and daughter on a visitor’s visa and I applied for protection. I left my husband and eldest son back in Colombo.

We dealt with Immigration here for 5 years. My husband suddenly collapsed and died in Sri Lanka 10 days before we were given permission to stay. We had been married for 27 years.

Immigration said I could work to support my children, then they said I couldn’t. It was an experience for many years. You have to be right up on your paperwork. I feel sorry for people who can’t speak English. In this country if you can’t talk well you will be in trouble.

When Immigration asked us to leave the country within 3 weeks the community, the school principal and the catholic priest, the parishioners and St Vincent de Paul organised a big petition. Eventually we were granted permission to stay. I have worked in the kitchen and as a nurse’s aid at retirement homes. When I finished my volunteer work my current employer, Gold Coast Homestead, said “You are not doing voluntary work anymore. We want you on the payroll.”

You have to be pushy, and to have the paper qualification. I am very lucky to get work. The Multicultural Families Organisation were very helpful and supportive. I did volunteer work in the office and we worked on a quilt. Even though I haven’t seen my eldest son for 5 years I wonder how it will be, because I have changed too, in myself and my thoughts.

We ask ourselves “Why did this happen?” Everything changed so quickly. I don’t want to think about the past, we want to move forward. I concentrate on our day to day needs.

I would love to have my own business as a beauty therapist, we like to use a lot of herbal ingredients. However I would have to go to college here and I have to work because we need the money.