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Australia is one of the top three countries for refugee resettlements. The Australian Government has successfully established a responsive humanitarian program that aims to assist and protect refugees and facilitate their resettlement and integration in Australian society. Australia aims to help various groups including African refugees. In Australia, African refugees have developed a negative reputation because of their involvement in crime and their inability to gain employment, thus, fueling their dependency on welfare and the Government’s other services. These factors have contributed to African refugees’ social identity in Australia. Since African refugees came from poor developing countries in the region, they were deprived of education and therefore, lack requisite skills and competencies. This similarly prevents them from gaining employment in Australia. If their situation was reversed, however, outcomes for African refugees would be better than it is now. Outcomes of reversal will be explored in the paper.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees once noted that Australia is one of the top resettlement countries alongside the United States and Canada (Department of Immigration and Citizenship 2011, p. 2). Australia has managed to maintain a reputable humanitarian program for refugees. In the past, the population of African refugees in Australia only made up a small percentage of the entire refugee population in the country. Nevertheless, in recent years, Australia began focusing on assisting populations in Africa, particularly those in Congo, Ethiopia, Sudan, and Somalia, with the Government’s Humanitarian Program. The Australian Government is committed to protecting refugees in the country through their involvement in policy development, provide development assistance to host countries, and to provide opportunities for refugees to rebuild their lives in Australia (Department of Immigration and Citizenship 2012, 32). Furthermore, Australia offers assistance to African refugees by upholding multiculturalism in the country.
A multicultural Australia upholds respect and understanding of cultural diversity towards the goal of developing a harmonious society that embraces inclusion (Henry & Kurzak 2013, 1). Considering the nature of Australia’s humanitarian program, the Government has helped refugees, including those from Africa, integrate in Australian society. The succeeding discussion focuses on the sociological characteristics in Australian society that contributed to or established the social identify of African refugees in the country. Furthermore, the discussion also includes an analysis of a scenario where these social characteristics were revised to determine how these changes will affect African refugees’ way of life in Australia.
Social Characteristics that Contribute to African Refugees’ Social Identity
As previously noted, Australian society has an established system in place to assist and accommodate the needs of refugees, including those from Africa, in local communities. Australia’s humanitarian program is a key aspect that facilitates African refugees’ assimilation or reintegration to Australian society (Sawer, Abjorensen, & Larkin 2009, 288). The Government’s initiatives to accommodate refugees bring about social characteristics that allow this population to adjust and develop a likely social identity or individuality under the circumstances. Although the Government is yet to implement policies or programs to increase the rate of employment among refugees in Australia, a system is in place to help African refugees achieve financial independence through employment in the country. Australia’s employment system is relatively better considering the situation of African refugees in their home countries stricken by widespread poverty. Nevertheless, the situation of African refugees proves to be a barrier to their employment in Australia. Since most African refugees came from poor developing countries, they were unable to complete their education or even attend schools. The lack of access to education in their home countries and therefore, the inadequacy of their skills and competencies, prevent African refugees from gaining employment in Australia. Some African refugees do gain employment but for low level jobs because of their lack of skills and experience.
African refugees have developed a reputation as far as crime is concerned. African refugees from Sudan in particular figure into Australia’s crime statistics. The authorities have reported several instances where Sudanese refugees have participated in various crimes. Apparently, Sudanese refugees, especially young adults, are known for forming gangs and engaging in fights with other gangs. This population of African refugees are also known for other types of delinquency such as alcoholism and disturbances in their neighborhood (Sawer, Abojorensen, & Larkin 2009, 288). Due to the frequency of their participation in criminal activity, African refugees have established a reputation of delinquency, which is one of the reasons why some people in Australia do not approve of in-shore humanitarian programs (Sawer, Abojorensen, & Larkin 2009, 288).
One of the problems or challenges that not only African refugees but all refugees in Australia go through relates to family reunification (Yongai 2014, 237). In some cases, African refugees left their family in their own countries. Although they can petition for their family’s migration to Australia, most of them fail to successfully do so because of the high cost of processing. Within this context, we go back to the primary problem of African refugees in Australia – poverty and unemployment – that defines the social identity and situation of this population in the country.
Reversing the Situation of African Refugees in Australia
One of the best scenarios that would be most beneficial or advantageous for African refugees is if they came from developed countries. On the contrary, majority of African refugees in Australia come from poor developing countries such as Congo, Sudan, and Somalia among others. Hence, in their own countries, African refugees were long deprived of access to basic services including health and education. The lack of access to education is perhaps the most significant problem that affect African refugees’ situation when they resettle in host countries such as Australia. Employment is one of the factors that contribute to resettlement and integration. If African refugees gain access to employment opportunities, it would greatly help them earn income to resettle in Australia. Through stable employment, African refugees can rebuild their lives, apply for family reunification, send their children to school, and access basic health care services. Gaining the capability to earn and provide for their families would help them cope in Australian society. Nevertheless, unemployment rate is still high for all refugees in Australia. One factor that contributes to this is that most African refugees have not completed their education in their own countries, thus, making them unemployable because of their lack of requisite skills and competencies. Other African refugees remain employed but under minimum wages because they can only work as low level employees due to their inadequate qualifications.
Reversing the situation for African refugees would yield better outcomes for them. If African refugees, for instance, came from developed countries and belonged to the middle or high income classes, their situation in Australia would be significantly better than it is now. African refugees coming from developed countries, expectedly, would be socio-economically capable. Belonging to middle or high income classes, they would have had access to public services including education and they would have finished high school and earned their university degrees. Consequently, they would have been employed in their own countries and gained significant work experience and developed skills and competencies that would contribute to their productivity and efficiency in the workplace. As a result of this, when they come to Australia, their employment situation would be less problematic. As skilled workers owing to their social status and experience in their own countries, African refugees would find it easier to look for employment in Australia because skilled workers are highly valued in the country.
Integration, which is one of the primary objectives of Australia in accommodating refugees including those from Africa, is one of the best outcomes if African refugees came from developed countries and belonged to the middle and high income classes in their own country. Despite the change, unfamiliarity, and serious adjustments that African refugees would have to go through by resettling in Australia, these would be more bearable than it is now for African refugees in the country because of employment. Employment facilitates integration because African refugees would gain a stable income. Employment also leads to self-sufficiency, which is important in developing a sense of self or individuality stemming from confidence and self-esteem among African refugees. Moreover, employment also provides opportunities for African refugees to provide a future for their families in Australia. By being employed, they can send their children to school and this would allow younger generations to integrate fully in Australian society. These outcomes would also allow upward social mobility for African refugees and their children, which is unlikely in their current situation in the country.
In terms of identity, outcomes of access to employment would also reverse African refugees’ reputation and sense of identity in Australia. As previously discussed, African refugees seemed to have developed a negative reputation. Some African refugees are known for their participation in criminal activity, while others are known for dependency on the Government, especially when it comes to welfare services. With their situations reversed, African refugees can establish a more positive social identity as responsible and contributing members of Australian society. Furthermore, African refugees as a community in Australia can also develop a strong sense of social identity because they are capable and self-sufficient individuals. Their skills and competencies, as well as their employment, would help them rise above social criticisms and issues pertaining to the presence and situation of refugees in their host countries.
The foregoing discussion explores the social characteristics that contribute to African refugees’ identity as social individuals in Australia. The impact of extreme poverty relates to social characteristics that often define African refugees’ identity. Most, if not all, African refugees come from poor developing countries in the region such a Congo, Liberia, Sudan, and Somalia. Since living in developing countries, African refugees were deprived of basic services such as health care and education. Most of them have not achieved a university degree much less attended primary and secondary school. The lack of education in their home countries led to inadequate skills and competencies, which is the primary factor that prevents them from gaining employment in Australia. As a result, even in Australia, African refugees suffer because of poverty even if their situation is relatively better than their situation in their home countries. Unemployment rates of refugees in Australia is one of the factors that prevent African refugees from reintegrating in Australian society and reuniting with their families in the country. Consequently, this pushes African refugees to commit crime, which has contributed to their negative image, reputation, and identity in Australia. The situation of African refugees in the country would have been better had they come from developed countries and from middle to high income household. This would have guaranteed that they attended school and were even employed, thus, allowing them opportunities to gain significant knowledge, skills, and competencies. If situations were reversed, African refugees would find it easier to look for employment in Australia, attain self-sufficiency, develop a strong and positive social and cultural identity or individuality, and integrate in Australian society.
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