The Settlement Challenges Facing the South Sudanese Refugee Families in Melbourne.

Posted: April 14, 2013 by PaanLuel Wël in Commentary, Featured Articles, Reports

By William Bol Deng

The Settlement Challenges Facing the South Sudanese Refugee Families in Melbourne.

Abstract

The purpose of this article is to explore the settlement challenges facing the South Sudanese refugee community in the western suburbs of Melbourne. The refugee community from South Sudan that resettled in Australia is among the country’s most disadvantaged and vulnerable community groups. The settlement situation of the South Sudanese community is critical due to many reasons, including a lack of sufficient support services for the community and the vulnerability of families. This article discusses the settlement-related challenges facing the South Sudanese refugee community from its perspective with an aim of sharing findings with an audience that may have no real-life experience of being a refugee or resettling out of their comfort zones.

The South Sudanese refugees in Australia come from a difficult background of a long civil war which has affected them in many ways; their community is going through a recovery process from past traumas and sometimes it is difficult for individuals and families to forget past experiences of conflict and move on with their new lives. Refugees often lose the opportunity of independence due to conflict and overstaying in refugee camps as not enough services are provided to help them gain relevant skills and education. People struggle with daily survival issues rather than investing in long-term life skills. The lack of sufficient skills and education related to the western world’s way of life has impacted on families and individuals who resettle in Australia. Settlement issues hamper many families and individuals within the South Sudanese refugee community. The struggle to understand a new culture and people, a new system and related bureaucracy is extremely problematic to people when they are settling. Due to financial hardship and the chronic lack of employment, this community tends to have a higher risk of experiencing problems such as homelessness, family breakdown, social isolation, financial hardship, poor health, drug and alcohol abuse, gambling problems, unemployment and young people’s involvement in criminal activities such as stealing and robbery.

Introduction

Settlement is understood as a transformation process of helping refugee community groups to settle in a new country. Settlement is the period of adjustment that occurs following a migrant or refugee’s arrival in a new country, as they become established and independent in their new society (Richmond, 2011). The South Sudanese refugee groups are one of the new, emergent disadvantaged communities in Australia. Regardless of their minority status within Australia, their issues are very much visible in the media as many people within this community are struggling with settlement. The overall aim of this research is to understand settlement challenges from that community’s perspective and inform service providers, governments and the wider community about challenges facing South Sudanese refugee families while settling in Australia.  The research also provides an opportunity for the South Sudanese refugees to air their views on common settlement issues. Secondly, it contributes to the existing literature on settlement and refugee issues in a broader context. In order to reshape settlement policy, it is fundamentally important to understand refugees’ social conditions and the historical, cultural, economic and political backgrounds and difficulties encountered during the settlement period.

The South Sudanese community is one of many refugee communities that were forced to leave their homeland because of civil war, cultural oppression and the denial of basic human rights, including social and economic rights. While re-settling in Australia, they face enormous settlement challenges including housing, employment and cultural adaptation. In Australia, among the challenges that refugee and migrant settlers find pressing is a struggle to adjust to the new culture and integrate into mainstream services. For the South Sudanese refugee community and other African refugee groups, it is worse than for other refugees and migrants in Australia (Atem 2011). This is because the practices and values reflected in their new environment are sometimes inconsistent with the African communities’ values and traditional ways of engaging community groups. African refugees who are resettled in higher income counties like Australia face certain challenges, such as family breakdown, parenting, unemployment, racism and discrimination (Renzaho 2011). High costs in the Australian housing market have brought significant consequences to the economically and socially disadvantaged South Sudanese community and other minority ethnic groups (Atem 2011). The study focuses on settlement experiences and the community understanding of settlement challenges.

The South Sudanese community

Due to a long civil war in Sudan between the Southern and the Northern Sudanese, many people from the South Sudan region were displaced and forced to seek refuge in other countries, including Australia. It is estimated that more than 24,000 South Sudanese are living in Australia and most of this population came between 2001 and 2006 (Atem 2011).  The war between the Northern and South Sudan has claimed an estimated two million lives, with many millions more homeless and displaced (Coker, 2004). Conflict between South and North is historical in nature. It is a conflict between services, religion, and power. A failure of Khartoum people/government to distribute services equally in all regions was one of the major issues that made people in South Sudan rebel against the regime. Sudan’s conflict has many causes, and people are not fighting in Sudan because they worship different gods or have a different genetic makeup.  Instead, they are fighting over land and resources because fighting is the only way for people to determine who owns what resources and in which piece of land, or who has the right to graze animals on that piece of land. People are always concerned with their needs and interests based on land and its natural resources. Sudan has been effectively in a civil war since it emerged from colonial rule in 1956. By then, the stage for conflict had already been set by the British and the Egyptians because of conspicuous inequalities between the north and the south, with much of the country’s resources and the instruments of policy-making concentrated in the Arab north. It is against this background that the mostly Christian and animist southerners took up arms to fight against the imbalance (Deng, 2005). Particular regions such as South Sudan and Darfur, which are very rich in natural resources including oil, mineral wealth and water, were neglected in terms of development and their populations are badly affected by poverty and disease. In contrast, the North region is a desert and is poor in natural resources. However, major development took place and community welfare is good compared to the South, one reason being that the North benefits from the resources taken from the southern regions.

Since European colonisation, violent conflict has been persistent due to the attitude that the North always controls resources and that the South and other peripheral regions, including Darfur, are economically and politically underrepresented. In addition, the government rules under Islamic law and this is perceived negatively by the South. They are concerned that the North views Islam as the only religion in Sudan (Toten & Tyler, 2008).

As a result of this devastating conflict, South Sudanese people were displaced and hosted in many refugee camps in neighbouring countries. These countries include Kenya, Ethiopia and Uganda. Some spent over 10 years in refugee camps with little support services from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). In refugee camps in Africa, people often have no choice or little control over their lives. There are no opportunities for the development of skills or growth in a professional capacity. Between 2002 and 2005, many refugees from the South Sudan entered Australia under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (“the Refugee Convention”). Sudan was at the top of the Australian Humanitarian Program and they were also a high priority for other western countries such as the U.S.A and Canada.  For those who had an opportunity to come to Australia, many chose to live in Melbourne because of affordable accommodation and community connections.

Although South Sudan became an independent nation in 2011, large numbers of South Sudanese refugees still live in exile, in places such as the Kakuma Refugee Camp in northern Kenya, refugee camps in Uganda and Ethiopia, and urban refugees residing in Cairo (Turner & Fozdar, 2010). The experience of migrating and resettling can significantly disrupt a refugee’s social world. Their social relationships become lost or fragmented while the social network crumbles and remaining families become dislocated. The previous social world has vanished and a new economic, political and cultural context is formed (Tipping, 2010). The refugee’s war-related suffering is aggravated by challenges and losses that are migration-related (Westoby, 2008). During the period of transition and settlement, the community faces many social issues and problems in addition to what they have already experienced. Past suffering includes traumatic life experiences in conflict zones and in refugee camps, displacement and separation of family members (Tipping, 2010).

Generally, refugees in camps start their resettlement processes with help of the UNHCR as well as Australia’s Humanitarian Program whose officers visit camps and conduct interviews. Conditions in refugee camps are often unbearable as the UNHCR only provides for basic services needed for survival (Tipping, 2010). Upon arrival in Australia, refugees face considerable challenges in adapting to a new life, a new system and a new culture. Time is needed for them to adapt to the new environment, culture and language. Their experiences from past conflicts and refugee camps have eroded their skills and abilities. Although these experiences have been reinforced by their settlement difficulties, community members have tried their best to support one another during difficult times (Commonwealth of Australia, 2007). However, there are many barriers and limitations for South Sudanese community members to provide consistent help to families and young people who face a higher risk and are more vulnerable to the challenges of settlement. The South Sudanese community members tend to live far apart in different suburbs, but despite this challenge their community’s social fabric still brings them together to celebrate cultural events (VFST, 2006).

Refugees and UNHCR

Recently in Australia, there have been many discourses about refugees coming to Australia. People with less understanding of how far is Africa as a continent is from Australia often confuse refugees from Africa and asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat. Some discourses in the media had attempted to distinguish between refugees by labeling them as “bad” refugees and “good” refugees. Bad refugees are those who jump the queue, meaning they arrived in Australia by boat and not through the formal channels of UNHCR. Although South Sudanese refugees who settled in Australia came through a formal process of the UNHCR in refugee camps, they are still being treated badly or labeled as “bad” refugees because of their visible settlement-related challenges. Refugees from Africa formally come to Australia through genuine processes and arrangements between the UNCHR and the Australian government. Those whom the UNHCR have identified as refugees are allowed to apply for refugee status to those countries which signed the Refugee Convention. As a result of an increasing number of refugees and humanitarian entrants, the United Nations (UN) established the UNHCR in 1950. Since then, the UNHCR has been mandated by the UN General Assembly to assist and protect refugees, asylum seekers and internally displaced people (IDP).  Its mandate is to lead and co-ordinate international action to protect refugees and resolve refugee problems worldwide, and its primary purpose is to safeguard the rights and wellbeing of refugees (Tipping, 2010). Australia is one of the countries that has signed the convention and has resettled many refugees. Most South Sudanese in Australia arrived through the help of the UNHCR in refugee camps; the process itself is very difficult for them. They experience a high level of homesickness and isolation and this is aggravated by a culture shock that further hinders their ability to begin their life anew in Australia. The impact of integrating into a new society can often cause high levels of stress and anxiety for refugees (Refugee Council of Australia, 2011). In addition to a shared traumatic past, many refugees have experienced poverty, poor quality or total absence of formal education, and may have low or no levels of English language knowledge. If they were living in a refugee camp prior to their arrival, they may have no concept of interacting with society and its institutions such as banks, hotels, etc. Some of the reasons that refugees in a country such as Australia struggle with unemployment are English language barriers, post-traumatic stress disorders, general health and cultural issues (Harte et al., 2009).

Research methodology

This study used a qualitative study method in which six refugee families were interviewed by the researcher with the aim of understanding the re-settlement challenges facing families. The qualitative research method is commonly used in many fields, including fields of community development and refugee studies. This involved conducting intensive individual interviews with a small number of respondents to explore their perspectives on a particular idea, program or situation. Participants can share their experiences and thoughts about program operations, processes and outcomes, and their concerns (Boyce and Neale, 2006). Qualitative methods are very effective and provide a relaxed atmosphere in which information can be collected easily through conversations. Participants often feel more comfortable having a conversation with a researcher about their program as opposed to filling out a survey (Cynthia Woodsong et al. 2005).

The Settlement period is compromised with critical social issues that matter to these families as well as community members in Australia. A careful approach was taken into account during recruitment to avoid anxiety, nervousness and concerns. The selection criteria were that a participant must be from the South Sudan who arrived between 2003 to 2007 and had lived in one or more refugee camps before coming to Australia The six families came forward to participate in the interviews on a voluntary basis after the research information and questions were distributed through functions, community meetings, community leaders and influential members. Word of mouth played a significant role as the message was passed to people who wanted to share their stories and settlement experiences with a researcher. Interviews were conducted by a social worker who has considerable experience in working with families and individuals, and who has a positive history of engaging families in relaxing conversations. Conversations were tape-recorded and later analysed to capture meanings. The first part was about their personal experiences of settlement-related challenges and the second part was about their families and other close community members’ experiences in Australia. Participants were engaged in semi-structured interviews in which their views were scripted and analysed as findings. Pseudonyms were used in this study to protect privacy of the participants.  They were engaged in a flexible and respectful method to enhance their confidence and encourage full participation in the interview.  They could choose a closed and convenient venue for the interview; times were arranged according to their availability and personal information was coded anonymously (Boyce and Neale, 2006).

Background of participants

Participants were recruited from different ages from 19 to 45 years old. Gender was equally balanced with three male heads of families and three female heads of families, all participants heading families of between five to eight children. Some members of these families who were considered by their parents as children were aged up to 25 years.  During interviews, they were still living with parents/relatives in the same house because they cannot afford their own accommodation: many of them were unemployed or still undertaking academic studies.

The families of participants came to Australia between 2003 and 2005. They had lived in different refugee camps in Kenya, Ethiopia, Egypt and Uganda. The level of support services and education offered in those countries were very different. Only two were employed, one of whom was only employed part-time, both in the community services sector. All other participants informed the researcher that they were looking for jobs and still studying at schools.

Findings and discussions

These refugee families are facing resettlement challenges. According to the participants, common challenges include unemployment, language barriers, housing issues, discrimination and racism. The experiences of the South Sudanese community in the western suburbs of Melbourne are also repeated in other regions of Australia. There is no doubt that newly arrived refugee community groups are experiencing substantial challenges although some government funded programs are available to provide support services (Gifford et al. 2007).. There are numerous factors that affect refugees’ settlement into Australia. These factors are based on their capacity to adjust, level of education obtained and the life skills a person acquires to adjust to a new environment.  Many families and individuals find it hard to assimilate into the Australian mainstream culture and system on top of many other things. Adjusting to a new culture is one of the most pressing challenges facing these refugees.  Experiencing a new culture, a new legal system and the lack of language acquisition are impeding refugee families and individuals. These refugees decided to settle in the western and eastern suburbs of Melbourne because of rental affordability and community connections. Community connection is very important for refugees with low English or no English language skills. It helps the community to break some cycles of social isolation that have their own implications in terms of mental health.  A refugee community member from South Sudan speaks of the difficulties and complexity of defining settlement due to the many issues surrounding it:

“Settlement is a broad thing: you cannot define it in sentence or in a paragraph because it is continuum and endless. There is no yardstick of measuring the South Sudanese community’s needs of settlement as these or those. But what I can say is that our people from the South Sudanese community do need orientation and support services. You could see that people are not well oriented and that is why they are struggling with issues related to settlement. I think there is no end to settlement but there is a beginning. If there are no proper services provided, people cannot settle. Social issues continuously emerge from time to time.” (Samuel)

The above statement is reinforced by the fact that social support can influence immigrants’ and refugees’ feelings of belonging or of isolation. Refugees are facing social issues in their host country, which intensifies problems with integration and their social relations may be either disrupted or devalued in the host country. Being an immigrant or refugee can impact on each community member’s role and expectations, and can increase conflicting values within families.  Social support services can enable them to access information and services and help them maintain a link with their homeland (Stewart et al., 2008).

“I think settlement is when you are successful in a new life or in a new country. It is enabling, integrating people and I think the aim is to enable people or to allow people to reach a point where they can be self-sufficient and well-integrated in the community. It is very much about understanding the system of new culture in new country, navigating yourself to know the ways of life in new environment and stimulating in new culture. I don’t think that settlement is about taking someone’s life comprehensively. It is about enabling someone; providing knowledge, skills and the opportunity to be able to help themselves within a certain community.” (Monica)

The settlement period is a difficult time for refugee community groups in many ways and can be a dramatic experience for families and individuals. This period requires sufficient support services because of constant social issues striking refugee families and individuals, including financial hardships, family breakdown, intergeneration conflict, social isolation, cultural shock, home-sickness, unemployment and discrimination.

My parents were overwhelmed by the many responsibilities with children and financial pressure. In the community generally, people who are older are facing many challenges because of the responsibilities and things that they wanted to do but could not do because of language barrier. For example, they could not get jobs to help themselves and they depended on welfare payments. They could not help their relatives and family members who were left overseas. It is so difficult and frustrating to people who do not understand English as they are unable to help themselves.” (Adeng)

Parents and young people appeared to experience settlement issues differently; perhaps parents or adults tend to have higher expectations of wanting to get jobs and earn money to support their family and relatives either in Australia or overseas. Young people have less responsibility and do not have the same level of expectation of obtaining a job. However, the reality is that adults’ high expectation of gaining employment within a short time after settlement is unachievable due to many employment barriers. For example, finding work is a challenging process for someone who has very little or no English. The process of getting a job is competitive in Australia; and people with low English levels struggle to get jobs.

My experience was difficult. There were many challenging things that we faced in between. My family was struggling to get things rights in Australia including learning the language. Yet we were hammered by culture shock, homesick and social isolation. There were also discrimination attitudes that we faced here and there at different places” (John).

Beside the common settlement issues facing refugee families, parents are facing difficulties in raising children in two different cultures. Young people rapidly acquire some familiarity with Australian systems and are receptive to the Australian lifestyle. However, parents still hold their traditional and cultural ways of parenting in South Sudan, which is completely different to the Australian practice. Parenting is one of the challenges of arriving in a new country. In the South Sudanese expression, “Parenting in new culture is not a glass of water to drink” – meaning this is not an easy task and its significance cannot be underestimated when working with refugee communities.

We live in a country where young people see their ways and young people tend to be smarter than parents and parents are still holding traditional parenting style. This is one of the causes of family conflict. The family can easily break down as a result of continuous tension and distressing situation if there is no understanding.” (Monica).

Language issue

Refugee community groups that come from non-English speaking countries and settle in English-speaking countries constantly face language difficulties. It is not easy for adults with many other responsibilities to learn the language quickly, and it takes time for refugee adult groups to learn English and to understand the system fully. People must be supported to improve their levels of education in literacy and numeracy, as these skills are crucial for employability (DIAC, 2012). The problem is that newly-arrived refugees and migrants are only eligible to take free English lessons for 510 hours provided by AMEP.  Extending refugees’ learning support services is important in improving their English skills in writing and communication.. One participant indicated that 510 hours is not enough.

“510 hours for refugees’ education support is not realistic, especially for those who come from a non-English background and oral culture such as South Sudanese group. In South Sudan, people never even learn how write and read in their own language. It is challenging for them. I do think that it is not good idea to classify people in one boat by making them learn English within 510 hours. Learning is dependent on a personal basis; some people require more or less hours to learn.” (Monica).

Employment

Employment is an important part of supporting refugee communities to settle better in a new environment. When people gain employment and have a stable income, it reduces the stress of financial problems and they feel accepted and respected in society. Employment also enables people to strengthen their social support and networking, which is a crucial part of psychosocial wellbeing. Some international studies done with refugees that came from conflict areas suggest that there is a great amount of work needed to support and engage the refugee workforce. Refugees who are engaged in the workforce tend to have settled more quickly and easily than those who are not engaged in the workforce. The workplace contributes strongly to psychosocial well-being and social connections, and support has increasingly been seen as an important complementary dimension of experience (The Psychosocial Working Group, 2003). However, refugee communities usually struggle with many social issues that affect their ability to secure employment (DIAC, 2012). The South Sudanese community is one such group facing social issues and isolation in this area.

 “Getting employed is very important. It means lots, you integrate easily by understanding system and cultures by having other people work with you. People need employment, but it seems to be hard for many refugee groups particularly we South Sudanese community members in Melbourne.” (John).

Gaining employment is essential; it is critical for material welfare and identity. It is clear that many refugees with an African background find it difficult to gain employment since they have no locally acquired skills and experience. However, some of the problems are unrelated to lack of skills but relate to racial discrimination. Discrimination plays a role in keeping Africans unemployed or underemployed, even when they have Australian qualifications (Australia Human Right Commission, 2009).

“Discriminating people not to have jobs is disempowering and this makes people depend on government welfare benefits. It is not good enough for someone who wanted work and get out of welfare dependency. Many young people are looking for jobs but no way for them to get jobs quick. It is frustrating and stressful to attend many interviews with no luck or applying for many jobs and no call for interview. This is a real situation for the South Sudanese in Australia.” (Monica).

The unemployment problem is associated with several factors, including limited schooling and discriminatory attitudes in workplaces. People with refugee backgrounds are often confronted by difficulties in the labour market which cannot be explained alone by poor English language skills, occupational skill deficiencies or the fact of their recent arrival. Refugees face greater adjustment problems in settlement, possibly as a direct consequence of the traumatic events leading to their arrival. Refugees with African backgrounds are suffering from excessive unemployment, inactivity, non-employment, disguised unemployment and under-employment (Atem, 2008).

Refugee communities are dealing with complex issues during the settlement period. The South Sudanese community appear to lose their confidence and ability to look for suitable jobs because of discriminatory attitudes of employers. The community’s situation has constantly deteriorated due to a lack of support provided from settlement organisations. As a result of people losing hope, they remain helpless and struggle with unemployment issues. Many young people find it difficult to get jobs because of strong competition and the lack of available jobs in the market. Furthermore, unemployed parents cannot choose where to live and where to educate their children as the lack of financial stability is daunting for those who depend on welfare payments. Paul Atem (2008) argues that racial discrimination is one of the major impediments to employment, as some employers tend to dislike hiring black Africans in their workplaces.

Housing

Obtaining affordable housing for larger families is a stressful and challenging process in many parts of Australia. The Australian government is attempting to address the housing shortage but a lack of resources to build affordable housing for everyone has made it hard for the government to address housing and homelessness issues on a large scale. Families in refugee communities are struggling to get accommodation or housing because of the number of children in the family; two- or three-bedroom flats or houses cannot accommodate families in some situations (Atem, 2009). On top of this, landlords are reluctant to rent to families with many children because of the likelihood of property damage. This makes it harder for such families to find private rentals. It is acknowledged in some literature that people of African descent encounter significant difficulties accessing adequate and appropriate housing in Australia (Atem, 2009). These difficulties need to be understood so that strategies can be developed to assist African-Australian families to meet their accommodation needs. It is also necessary to explore structural and systemic practices that prevent African-Australians accessing suitable accommodation (Australia Human Rights Commission, 2009).

Access to appropriate and affordable housing is very important and is a fundamental human right (Australia Human Rights Commission, 2009). Obtaining affordable accommodation is one of the issues facing unemployed families from the South Sudanese community. During their settlement period, families have been struggling to find suitable accommodation. John gives the following example.

Getting a house for a single mother with low income and a number of young children is very difficult in Australia particularly with real estate agents. Families are denied based on their incomes and number of children they have. This makes it difficult for many families to access private rents. It is also difficult to get government housing due to the long waiting list and as well four to five bedrooms are rare to get too with government’s houses.” (John).

African immigrants are facing difficulties in the housing sector due to their larger family size, lack of personal transport, lack of financial and social capital, racial discrimination, limited English language skills and lack of knowledge in dealing with the public and private sectors. The traditional family structure of African migrants appears to differ from other migrant groups in Australia. Africans often have larger family sizes than those of non-African households, which make traditional Australian housing designs unsuitable for their housing needs. (Atem, 2009)

As a result of financial hardship, families are forced to live in high-rise accommodations that are not suitable for raising children. The South Sudanese families that live in high-rise buildings are there because they cannot afford to pay the market rent of houses. Families with children are fearful that the wrong group will influence their children (Atem 2009). The South Sudanese refugee communities would ideally like to be placed in suburbs where accommodation is affordable and there are amenities such as public transport, public hospitals and schools. Every person has the right to an adequate standard of living, which includes the right to adequate housing. Whether housing is adequate depends on a range of factors including security of tenure, availability of services, materials, facilities and infrastructure, affordability, accessibility, habitability, location, and cultural adequacy (Australia Human Right Commission, 2009) .

Racism and discrimination

Australia is a country of many nationalities.  Many residents have an overseas connection in either the first, second or third generations of their family backgrounds. According to the Australian government policy, Australia is a diverse nation that has embraced multicultural policy in which no individual is discriminated against. Nevertheless, racism and discrimination are still outstanding issues when it comes to newly-arrived refugees. African–Australians want to build new lives and contribute to Australian society but many of these newer arrivals have been confronted by numerous barriers including accessing employment, housing and racial issues (Australia Human Right Commission, 2009).

Racism and discrimination is something sensitive to be discussed openly in Australia. You find that whole institutions completely either ignore intentionally or are uninterested in such issues or they just find it insignificant, yet it is something essential to be addressed as the way you see yourself as an Australian. So I do think racism is a big factor at schools as well as the employment sector. At schools for example, there is a number of young people with a South Sudanese background that drop out from school because of racist attitudes toward them. If you talk to young people, some will tell you that they are called monkeys at schools;, things like that can constitute racism. Young people are supposedly to spend 80 per cent of their day at school; there is no way you can spend such time as a human being in an environment where you feel unsafe, unrespected or treated as if you are person who has somewhere else to go.” (Achol)

Common barriers faced by African-Australians are visible differences, access issues related to English language skills and local experience in the employment arena. These and many more barriers are often linked to discrimination and barriers maintained by professional bodies (Australia Human Right Commission, 2009). The Australian government’s multicultural policy position is that racism and discrimination are unacceptable in Australia. It is unlawful to discriminate against people based on their skin colour, nationality, faith or social status including disability, for example. However, it is one of the sensitive topics that many people do not like to discuss in public and it still exists in many forms. Refugee community groups experience racial attacks and discrimination in different forms including comments made by prominent politicians against refugee community groups.  In 2007, the former Minister for Immigration, Kevin Andrew, publicly announced that African migrants had failed to integrate into mainstream society. As a consequence of such comments, media groups including Channels 7, 9 and 10 in Melbourne targeted the ‘Sudanese’ issue and reported negatively on African refugee community groups for their commercial interests (Due, 2008).

Due to such comments from politicians in the media, refugees from the South Sudanese community end up being the victim of discrimination and racial abuse. Atem (2011) argues that African refugees face discrimination related to Australia’s narrow perception of them. This translates into discrimination in the labour market and health, education and housing sectors.

You have all these groups of young people, myself included, who sometimes face other avenues in which one would feel different forms of discrimination.  Sometimes I felt that I’m totally discriminated against and this is also applied to many young people that do go out with me. Yet we have nowhere to go to address our grievances about awful feelings of discrimination.” (Monica)

People can be unsettled in some cases when they are still struggling with feelings of being unsafe, discrimination at the workplace and racial comments on the street or from neighbours. For example, a refugee child may feel unwelcomed at school because of comments made about his or her skin colour. Communities generally feel unsafe in such situations; people want to move to a better location where they feel welcomed, respected and treated fairly. Families and young people from the South Sudanese community have experienced confronting issues of racism and discrimination. Due (2008) describes political representation in Australia as hegemonic with one dominant power since the time of the White Australia policy. This has reinforced the attitudes of some people who still hold negative views towards migrants and refugees.

My brother was constantly threatened at school which was horrible., Eventually we had to move out, and particularly we cannot cope to live there anymore because it was not safe for us. As a consequence of living in that area before, my brother is struggling with school. The South Sudanese young people are struggling to find their ways of belonging in terms of their identity in Australia. This is due to constant issues confronting people in many places, and these issues include racism and discrimination at workplaces, schools and other public areas.” (Monica)

The experience of discrimination by African immigrants in Australia has been noted by major studies on African settlement in Australia. Some of the literature indicates that racism has a significant impact on health due to stress and it has both physiological and social consequences (Due, 2008). At the physiological level, stress has adverse effects on our health and at the social level, it reduces our chances of accessing vital resources such as employment, education, housing and recreational amenities. Discrimination and the consequential stress depend on other factors including previous experiences, personal resilience and the availability of social support. Young men from the South Sudanese community find themselves being constantly threatened by police and being named ‘gang groups’ because they are walking in a group. In the South Sudanese culture, it is common to travel in groups of young men and young women and that is part of socialisation. This part of the culture is not understood in many contexts; it is the reason many of these young men are being stopped randomly by police (Mungai, 2008).

 Recommendations

From the results of this study’s findings of settlement issues facing the South Sudanese community in the western suburbs of Melbourne, the author of this article recommends that refugees’ issues be understood based on the level of support services and education obtained in their countries of origin and refugee camps, the time spent in refugee camps and the types of services provided there. Service providers need to improve their delivery of services in areas of employment, racism and discrimination, social isolation and early intervention services. There is also a need to create culturally appropriate services to help the community in addressing past trauma-related issues and settlement issues in a way that is appropriate to their culture and experiences. This could be an effective intervention strategy. Without effective intervention strategies and alternative engagement, there will be continued risks and challenges facing families and individuals regardless of how long they are in Australia. Some of the risks facing members of the community include problems that are interrelated such as unemployment and the continued dependence on social security support as the main source of income for families. Social isolation and the effects of discrimination and racism can affect people’s abilities and can make them vulnerable throughout their lives, resulting in a cumulative effect of being economically and socially excluded from Australia’s mainstream society.

There are some important steps that need to be taken seriously by the government when settling refugee community groups into the mainstream community.  Firstly, settlement can be successful when there is a strong connection between refugee community groups and local community groups. Therefore, it is vital that refugee community groups are helped through a connection with local services and to local people. The second step is to create awareness and educate the local community to avoid some tensions and prejudicial ideas of why refugee families are settled in a particular area. There is also a need to inform the local community how to accept refugee families in their neighbour centres, schools and workplaces without discrimination and negative stereotyping.

Conclusion

There are many issues that block refugee communities from accessing mainstream community services. These issues include racism and discrimination that people choose not to talk about openly and yet is something that exists on many levels. A second issue is a lack of appropriate cultural services from the mainstream agencies, leading to a misunderstanding between clients from refugee community groups and those agencies.  Refugee families and individuals find it difficult to cope with settlement issues. Housing, unemployment, language barriers and discrimination are overriding issues. There is also a concern that 510 hours of learning English is not enough for refugees from a non-English speaking background to acquire adequate English skills. According to the South Sudanese refugee community, they cannot master the English language within such a short time. Some immigrants who have no education background from their countries of origin complete their free 510 hours without gaining sufficient English skills.

The community has also identified a lack of sufficient engagement with settlement services agencies due to insufficient resources. Furthermore, its members find it difficult to gain employment due to low English proficiency, lack of skills in labour and discrimination in workforces that affects refugee members even with qualifications. Large families are similarly struggling to find suitable homes and accommodation as most houses have from two to four bedrooms. Settlement challenges cannot be underestimated; refugee community groups need enormous support services to rectify their settlement issues and to help them assimilate better into the mainstream community.

The settlement period can be a difficult time for refugee families and individuals.  Therefore, without a good connection between local services and local people, refugee families and individuals can be struck by social isolation, feelings of confusion and helplessness due to a lack of understanding as well as direction. Even when there is support and connection, people still struggle with feelings of homesickness, isolation, culture shock, unemployment and discrimination. Refugee community groups like the South Sudanese community that came from a long civil war background require time for rehabilitation because their members are usually deprived of social skills. Ideally, refugee communities are looking for more support to help them address settlement issues. It is extremely frustrating for refugee families and young people to live in crisis and instability in relation to unemployment as well as accommodation. This research has identified significant settlement challenges facing the South Sudanese communities and these included unemployment, housing issues, language barriers, trauma issues, general health issues and discrimination. People’s ability to start a new life and integrate successfully into the mainstream community is impeded by these settlement issues.

The South Sudanese refugee community is very much a disadvantaged group due to the lack of resources and support services available to help families and young people address their settlement issues. Some of these families and young people have experienced difficult issues prior to their arrival in Australia. Young people have trouble coping with the education system in Australia because many of these individuals arrived in Australia without basic education due to the fact that there was no opportunity for education in refugee camps. Parents and adults are also struggling with many issues; some find it hard to get jobs or to understand the existing bureaucracy in Australia. The quality of their lives is critically endangered by common settlement issues namely language barriers, unemployment, discrimination, financial hardship, social isolation, stereotyping, housing issues and difficulties in parenting children in a new culture.

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