WITH a pair of university degrees under his belt, Sudanese refugee Johnson Majer Maker-Adang is making the most of his freedom in Australia.
He and his family fled war-torn South Sudan 10 years ago and found refuge in Lismore, where he keenly pursued an interest in science and medicine.
After five years studying at University of Queensland in Brisbane, he proudly graduated with a Bachelor of Science and Bachelor of Economics this month.
Mr Maker-Adang, the first member of his immediate family to graduate with a university degree, celebrated during a
ceremony with friends and family at Lismore City Hall on Saturday.
He said studying for two degrees at the same time was challenging.
"They were both hard degrees, so combining them was just crazy," he said.
Growing up surrounded by war, Mr Maker-Adang's schooling began in an unlikely place.
"I was born in war, grew up in war and my mum and dad were affected by war all their lives, so a lot of our time was spent running and looking for safety," he recalled.
"We eventually came to a UN refugee camp in Kenya and that's where I first learnt my ABCs," Mr Maker-Adang said.
He and his family spent 12 years in the refugee camp, which hosted 90,000 people, before they made their way to Australia.
Knowing first-hand the struggles of refugees, Mr Maker-Adang is saddened by the lack of compassion often seen in the national debate about asylum seekers.
"I feel partly sad because, coming from a refugee background myself, I know a lot of refugees have faced a lot of horrors," he said.
"For them to leave their own home and escape from it, it has to be something of a great deal."
Last week, Federal Opposition leader Tony Abbott announced he would cut Australia's refugee intake from 20,000 to 13,750, claiming it would save the country $1.3 billion.
However, Mr Maker-Adang said refugees had much to offer socially and economically.
"Refugees are the ones who want to change their lives.
"That's why they're running in the first place; they want to work."