Saturday, July 31, 2004
A serious housing crisis is affecting the resettlement of African refugees in South Australia. And there is, apparently, no immediate relief in sight given the boom in the private rental market, and the lack of affordable rental properties for those on very low income.
The category of refugees most affected by this crisis is the “sponsored refugees”. As the name implies, “sponsored refugees” are those refugees sponsored by family members who are already in Australia.
All “sponsored refugees” pay for their own airfares to Australia and meet their living expenses. They are not entitled to some of the welfare benefits others take for granted soon after arrival. In fact, they have to fulfill their own housing needs in the private rental market. And this is the horn of the dilemma.
Recently, thousands of refugees arriving in this state come as “sponsored refugees”. They are the poorest of the poor, with no independent resources of their own. They depend solely on the goodwill of others; notably families and friends and private welfare agencies.
They have neither job. Nor income. Nor rights. Nor security. Nor a place they can call their own. And overcrowding in the available homes has become a significant problem; putting enormous pressure on existing families.
Come to think of it, these refugees have absolutely nothing really, except the presence of their own mind and the rock-solid determination to survive.
Meanwhile, the housing crisis continues. The sense of crisis is exacerbated by the fact that most refugees are considered “risky tenants”, for one reason or another. And the landlords will not even offer them the lease because they have no rental history in Australia; and obviously no “references from previous landlords” to support their application; having only just arrived in Australia from refugee camps.
Thus, in the short-term at least, the refugees are still in limbo, despite efforts at resettlement. It is paradise postponed. Most are yet to enjoy the freedom of renting their own place; let alone developing and controlling their own resources.
Nor will they realize the great Australian dream of owning their own home any moment soon, given the nature of the present crisis.
Friday, July 30, 2004
A big smile broke out on his face as he landed in Australia. It was a long journey but Ismail Madhi has finally made it. He has successfully reunited with his family after years of separation and loneliness.
Ismail, 22, was born and bred in Port Sudan. He is one of four children of a once prominent Sudanese merchant. He arrived Australia a few years ago after living as a refugee in Egypt for 10 years.
“I like Australia” he said, because “there is so much that is wonderful about the place”. And he loves the Australian landscape and the flora and fauna.
His story is one of hope and survival in an alien environment.
Ismail still thinks he is “better off now”; more so than he was in Africa. And he believes he has a “great future in Australia” , despite the daily struggle for survival, the non-recognition of his academic credentials and the myriad problems of resettlement.
“You can study and acquire new skills here” he maintained, “there are countless opportunities ” for self-improvement.
Meanwhile, Ismail has a message for all new arrivals in Australia: “Work hard and never give up, no matter what"; for, as the saying goes, every cloud has a silver lining.
Saturday, July 24, 2004
African migrants and refugees are making a positive contribution to the Australian economy and society, by setting up new businesses and sharing the best aspects of their culture. The evidence is not hard to find.
The Rhino Infotech is a computer business recently established by two energetic Nigerians, Emeka Onyenso and Justin Anyanwu, who have adopted Australia as their new home.
Faced with a great deal of disappointment in the mainstream labour market (after leaving school), both Justin and Emeka quickly learnt that the important thing in life is to make a living doing something that one loves most. “We wanted to be self-employed…and also to have access to secured sources of income for the future” said Emeka, the technical manager of the business. “We also wanted to make a significant contribution to the Australian society”. It seems to me that all their dreams have, finally, come true, on all counts!
In fact, the establishment of Rhino Infotech as a business venture is a good reflection of what is happening in the African-Australian community is Australia. Creative and innovative Africans have ”taken the rhino by the horn”, so to speak, accumulating wealth, the old fashion way, by dabbling in the world of business; and more directly by investing and re-investing their capital in innovative new enterprises.
Although many migrants and refugees still live in relative poverty, things are changing for the better in the newly emerging African communities. Some have become totally engaged with the Australian society (now, they appear to be more Australian than the Australians) and are making their presence felt in many areas of human endeavor.
The demand for technical education and training is increasing enormously. And Rhino Infotech fills the gap by offering “cheap” and affordable computers to customers for profit; providing basic technical advice and training for the new arrivals; as well as the long-term unemployed.
“We have had a lot of happy customers and business is picking up” , the marketing manager , Justin, said to me recently. “On the whole it has been a good year for the Rhino”. Although the profit figures are not available at his stage, the business does seem to have a great deal of potential. And the future looks bright!
The point to note, however, is that the African community is here to stay; and some migrants and refugees are feeling really good about themselves in the new environment. Indeed, the career-minded men and women are making giant strides, moving up the corporate ladder, setting up new and innovative firms, or making the rounds as wages and salary earners in Australian society.
For more on this, contact: http://africanmigrants.blogspot.com
Thursday, July 15, 2004
The fact is that Melanie (friends call her Mel) is not an ordinary girl, but a girl on a mission to achieve greater things and help build a better society.
With brains and beauty on her side, it seems to me that she was born not only to think of the welfare of others but also to help those in need. “I have an interest in Africa and the African people for as long as I can remember” she says, “my first aim was to become a lawyer in order to help break-down the apartheid regime in South Africa…But that has already been accomplished by Nelson Mandela”.
Nevertheless, Mel’s interest in Africa has not waned. So it was that after finishing school a few years ago, she spent two months traveling across Africa; visiting Namibia, Botswana, Zimbabwe, Zambia, Mozambique, and South Africa. It was a journey of a lifetime, and one that opened her eyes to the reality of the human condition in that continent.
“I think what most countries in Africa need is basic infrastructure, first aid facilities, hygiene, and medical education” she says with a great deal of conviction, “there are so many lives that can be saved, and so many hungry mouths to feed. Yet there are a lot of people who are still suffering” in Africa.
Mel knows quite too well that one doesn’t have to go to Africa to help the needy. Help is needed everywhere, especially in the newly emerging African communities in Australia.
Now studying at the University of South Australia, Mel’s creative mind is always at work; thinking about the welfare of others. And exploring options for a better life. “I decided that I wanted to become involved with developing African community in Adelaide (South Australia)” Mel says. “And not knowing where to start, I contacted the Australian Refugee Association (ASA)”. She also decided to get in touch with the Gilles Street Primary School which has a program for ‘New Arrivals” students and began working with the Sudanese students and students from various other countries.
It was the fulfillment of a dream. Through talking with the children, Mel realized that there were very few opportunities for the African children to get involved in the Adelaide community outside the school environment. Something had to be done!
This got Mel’s humanitarian impulse working overtime; thinking of the different ways in which she could help the newly arrived migrants and refugees settle into their new lives in Australia. “My first idea was to start a basketball team, as this is an area in which I have a lot of experience, both coaching and playing” she says. Here, the principal assumption was that basketball will give the children something physical and positive to do; helping to keep them off the streets.
Mel’s experiment is working. The basketball project is one of the most popular projects in the African community today. But she needs more support and more funding from various sources, so that she can keep the project going.
Finally, Mel’s next project (and the most ambitious of the lot) is to help “The Lost Boys” (whom we featured on this blog recently) find their feet in Australian society. Being young and community conscious, she is extremely knowledgeable about the critical issues facing young people as they try to establish themselves in a new country.
Have you any encouraging word or suggestions for Mel? Please use this medium to express your views.
Thursday, July 08, 2004
In fact, during my discussion with him, Adil talks candidly about his experiences in Eritrea and the repressive nature of the regime in that country.
His father, a prominent businessman, Mohamed Saeed, was arrested on the way to work one day in 1994 and has not been seen or heard of since then. Adil reckons this was not an isolated incident because two of his former school teachers also disappeared the same day, without trace.
In recent years, such disappearances have become a regular feature of the Eritrean political landscape. The actual number of people involved is difficult to ascertain, but many of those opposed to the authoritarian tendencies of the existing regime are still missing; some presumed dead.
Although no-one knows for sure where Mohamed Saeed is, Adil undoubtedly believes that his father is still in prison in Eritrea and calls for his immediate release. “It is a very stressful situation for the whole family” Adil says, “I’m deeply depressed about the whole thing”. But, according to recent reports, the Eritrean government would neither confirm nor deny the arrest and detention (or otherwise) of Mohamed Saeed.
Meanwhile, Adil wants his mother and three brothers, who are now living in the Sudanese capital Khartoum, to join him in Australia. “I have been trying to bring them to Adelaide in the past two years but without success” he says, “ family
reunion is a very difficult proposition for refugees (and migrants) here”.
Adil still loves Asmara . “It is a beautiful place”; he says, with a strong feeling of nostalgia: and also loves Australia for the “ peace of mind and security” it offers. But his father’s release from prison and family reunion are the most important things in his life at the moment.
Your thoughts on Mohamed Saeed's fate will be highly appreciated.
Tuesday, July 06, 2004
The civil war in Sudan orphaned 30,000 youths, among whom were “the lost boys”. The term refers to the 20,000 or so children, mostly boys, between 7 and 17 years of age who were separated from their families. They flee the violence by swimming through crocodile invested waters and sleeping in dense tropical forests full of armed troops and wild animals.
The lost boys have found their way to Australia, primarily due to the new sensibility in Australia’s refugee policy; and the recent increase in refugee intake based on humanitarian considerations.
Most of the lost boys are so young they are incapable of managing their own affairs. They live from hand to mouth, not caring about the future. Others are well-adjusted to the new socio-cultural environment, and quite conscious of their own identity.
Nevertheless, living on the fringe can be a tough proposition; especially for the lost boys. But the Africans think they have found a practical solution. Indeed, a new philosophy that sees education as the key to success has been adopted in the emerging African communities here. “Working and studying” has become the new mantra, widely seen as the road to progress.
Jur Deng Jur, 22, is a lost boy made good. He is a shinning example of what could be accomplished through discipline and hard-work. As a student of engineering at the university of South Australia, Jur has everything to live for. “My greatest ambition is to finish the engineering degree” he says, “so that I can get a good job and help others who are less fortunate”.
He sees a bright future in Australia and appears to be extremely patriotic: “I have been a refugee all my life” he says, with a great deal of emotion; now “I’m proud to be called an Australian citizen”. Quite frankly, Jur has admitted that Australia is the only country in the world that has given him what amounts to full citizenship rights.
A similar sentiment is expressed by Mamer, 17, who is still in high school and plans to go to the university to study law. Like Jur, Mamer likes the lifestyle in South Australia; and sees real value in education as the way forward for the new generation of Africans in Australia. Both appear to be well focused, with a strong determination to succeed.
Indeed, Jur is a lucky man with a great deal of personal integrity and courage. He is hard-working and conscientious; and believes he can “make it” in Australia. This reminds me of some of the important home truths about the position of African refugees in Australia; namely, that all refugees are not equal; and that some are more equal than others.
Unfortunately, some of the lost boys are still in limbo; they have completely lost their way in the new country. As one said to me recently: “life in Australia is very strange…it’s really very new to us. We are so confused”. And overwhelmed by loneliness and fear.
Some are so young and inexperienced that, they can’t even cope with little things like paying the bills. Without parental influence, they don’t have the discipline required to lead a successful life. They don’t know where to start; and how to manage their finances. Mobile phone debt and accumulation of debts from friends have become a big problem and the main source of interpersonal conflict.
It seems to me that what the lost boys need most is the “Guardian Angel”, a mentoring program that can guide them, ever so gently, through the labyrinth of an increasingly complex society. Such a program must address the real needs of the target group and must be culturally sensitive.
There are important lessons to be learnt from today’s post: understanding the predicament of the lost boys gives us a new perspective on Australian society; and an insight into the human condition.
Saturday, July 03, 2004
Indeed, Christine has come a long way. She was born in Obbo, near Torit in Eastern Sudan. She arrived Australia in 1988 after walking for three months over unforgiving wilderness from Sudan to Ethiopia; seeking refuge from the fighting in her home country. She was hungry, frightened, and weakened by sleeplessness. Yet, she prevailed. This was the beginning of her long walk to freedom.
Meanwhile, she is extremely delighted to be an Australian. "This place is good” she says with a broad smile, “you can’t hear the gun shots here (or loud explosions)”. In other words, there is no war of national liberation Down Under. No militia activities to worry about. Nor famine. Nor torture. In fact, Christine is quite happy with her new life; it is a relatively relaxed and comfortable lifestyle for a woman who spent years in a refugee camp in Ethiopia.
Christine is, indeed, a supermum because she fulfils herself by putting her family first, over and above all other considerations. She is the sole bread winner, and head of the household. She supports herself and her children on one income; having separated from her husband years ago.
But being a supermum is not all fun and games. There is a great deal of responsibility involved. Christine has assumed complete financial control over rent, food, medicine, schools fees, uniforms, transport, entertainment, and pocket money for her children; without any outside support.
Furthermore, as an African-Australian woman, Christine says she has experienced racism in Australia. “I have heard negative comments and racist remarks directed at me as I go about my daily business” she says, “but that does not bother me”. She is not daunted. Nor is she in any way bitter about her experience. Over the years, she has learnt to deal with adversity through positive thinking – a great lesson to all of us.
Thus, with her shyness and ladylike demeanor, Christine continues to strive for success, obviously believing that the world is hers for the taking. She has done very well for herself here: managing the home, taking care of her five children, studying to improve herself, and working hard on her “Hair and Beauty” business to supplement her income.
She is a lovely woman and a wonderful mother.
As a qualified accountant who could not get a job because no-one would recognize her qualifications, running a small business comes as second nature to her. And she is on the verge of a major break-through in building a home-based business and generating a good income stream for the future. The sky is the limit!
Watch this spot!