| Joint Standing Committee on Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade
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Chapter 8 Africans in Australia
This chapter considers the African diaspora living in Australia. It
begins with a review of the number of Africans living in Australia, and their
geographic origins. The Chapter then discusses African migrants and refugees living
in Australia, and concludes with discussion of the problems facing some African
migrants to Australia. This includes proposals made to the Committee which
raise issues such as better utilising the African community in Australia to the
mutual benefit of both Africa and Australia.
The African Diaspora in Australia
Australia has a growing African community. Over the last two decades,
Africans have come to Australia via two routes; both as migrants through
Australia’s skilled and family reunion programs, and as refugees through
Australia’s humanitarian program. These two streams are dealt with in later
sections of this Chapter.
As of 2006, Census data showed that there were 248 699 African-born people
living in Australia. It is not possible to
separate this particular figure into humanitarian arrivals. DIAC, however,
provided figures for the number of visas granted in various categories.
In 2008-09, 3493 Africans were granted humanitarian visas.
- 1756 visas granted
under the Refugee category;
- 1737 visas granted
under the offshore Special Humanitarian Program category.
In 2008-09 the number of Africans migrating to Australia outside the
humanitarian program were:
- 8025 people from
African nations were granted visas under the Skill Stream;
- 2290 people from
African nations were granted visas under the Family Stream.
Figures on the geographical origins of all African migrants are not
available from Census data. However, citizenship data does provide some
indication of geographic origin.
In 2008-09, 11.3 per cent of those being conferred Australian
citizenship were born in Africa—a total of 9841 people. Of these, the largest
number were born in South Africa (4128), with Sudan second (1430).
These numbers were similar to those in 2009-10, with 5207 South Africans being
conferred Australian citizenship—the only African country in the overall top
ten that year.
As mentioned, Australia has a sizeable community of people born in
Africa. Most of the African-born community came to Australia via the non-humanitarian
Between 1999–2000 and 2008–9, around 100 000 Africans migrated to
Australia through the Skills Stream and the Family Stream. Within these
figures, South Africa is the largest source country for migrants.
The Skills Stream of Australia’s migration program is its largest
component. There are several categories within the Skills Stream:
- ‘Employer Sponsored Migrants’,
wherein migrants are recruited and then sponsored by employers;
- ‘State Sponsored Migrants’,
wherein state and territory government identify skill shortages;
- ‘General Skilled
- ‘Business Skilled
Entry’, wherein successful business people migrate to Australia; and
- ‘Distinguished Talent
visas’, which are issued to people with ‘special or unique talents of benefit
The Skills Stream accounts for the majority of African migrants to
Australia. Between 1999–2000 and 2008–9, 80 252 Africans migrated to Australia
under the Skills Stream. Of these, the vast majority (over 90 per cent) came
from Southern and Eastern Africa.
From all regions of Africa, the largest occupation group within the
Skills Stream were ‘professionals’, which includes occupations such as
accountants, medical practitioners, and nurses. Australia has gained
significantly from its growing African-born community.
However, while the result of skilled migration is a net benefit to
Australia, this is not always the case for the source countries. Professor Helen
Ware told the Committee that skilled migration from Africa was:
Part of the brain drain: in which Australia benefits from the
human resource development and training paid for by poor African countries, but
put to work in Australia.
For example, according to figures provided by DEEWR, in 2007 and 2008,
on balance Africa as a continent lost 359 doctors and 577 nurses to Australia.
In relation to this, Professor Ware noted that while:
An argument could possibly be made for a poor country
training more nurses than it needs and then ‘exporting’ the surplus as a means
of securing foreign exchange ... no African country has, or will have in the
foreseeable future, anything like a surplus of medical doctors.
[Therefore if] Australia is to accept physicians emigrating
from Africa we should think very carefully about our responsibility for
contributing to the training of their replacements.>
Professor Ware also raised the benefits to African countries that can
flow from skilled migration, such as ‘through remittances sent home by
professionals working overseas’.
The Refugee Council of Australia informed the Committee that:
Remittances can play an important role in economic
development through improving living conditions and supporting the
establishment of small businesses, particularly in rural areas.
These remittances, while difficult to quantify accurately, are a large
source of foreign exchange for African countries, and in some cases are
estimated to represent as much as five percent of the GDP of African countries,
with overall transfers perhaps reaching as much as $40 billion annually. The
Refugee Council noted that this both exceeds ‘official development assistance
to the region, and in many countries [exceeds] foreign direct investment as
The activities of African Australians goes further than simply sending
money to relatives in home countries. Mr Haileluel Gebre-Selassie noted that:
African Australians have also raised and donated hundreds of
thousands of dollars to their respective original countries through different
government, welfare and international aid organisations. For example, the
Australian-Ethiopian community donated over $25 000 to the Fistula Foundation
of Australia ... Similarly, the African Australian communities donated funds through
Care Australia to address health related issues in the Afar region.
The Family Stream of Australia’s migration program accounts for a far
lower number of African-born people migrating to Australia than does the Skills
Stream. According to DIAC, between 1999–2000 and 2008–9, 22 290 African came to
Australia under this stream, with South Africa accounting for 40 per cent of
these. Other countries which are prominent in this stream include Egypt,
Ethiopia, and Ghana.
There are two components to Australia’s official humanitarian migration
program: an offshore and an onshore component. Within these components,
the 13 750 refugees Australia takes annually (as of 2009–10 program year) are divided
- resettlement of refugees
from offshore accounts for around 6000 places; and
- 7750 places are
accounted for by both the Special Humanitarian Program and the onshore
settlement of refugees.
Most Africans settling in Australia through the humanitarian program do
so via the offshore component. In 2003–4, Africans accounted for around 70 per
cent of these places. However, this number has declined in recent years, to
around one third in 2007–8 and 2008–9.
Over the last decade, more than 48 000 Africans have been settled in
Australia under the humanitarian program and Africa remains one of the three
regions targeted as priorities by DIAC.
Africans do not feature prominently in the onshore settlement figures
(usually less than ten per cent). However, DIAC told the Committee that
An unusual increase in 2008–9 was due to applications lodged
by World Youth Day and the Homeless World Cup attendees, with lodgements
subsequently returning to normal levels.
Furthermore, DIAC notes that, Zimbabwe aside, no particular nationality
stands out in these figures so as to be statistically significant.
The issue of the apparent arbitrariness of the assessment of refugees
from Sudan was raised by Professor Ware:
Currently what causes so much anguish for people who are
often already traumatised … is the fact that X’s cousin is allowed in from refugee
camp KK whilst Y’s cousin is not, even though, to both the Africans and the
Australian NGOs trying to assist them their circumstances appear identical. The
current rumour is that the granting of a visa depends entirely on the day of
the month the application form lands on the official’s desk.
DIAC responded in a supplementary submission:
Australia does not have the capacity to accept every SHP
[Special Humanitarian Program] applicant. …
While the SHP enables people to propose family members it is
not in essence a family reunion program. The limited number of visas means that
only those in greatest need of resettlement can be assisted under the SHP.
Greatest priority is given to those people assessed as
refugees by the UNHCR and referred to Australia for resettlement, and
applicants who are proposed by an immediate family member in Australia. …
All applicants must demonstrate compelling reasons for giving
special consideration for the grant of a visa. Assessment against this
requirement involves balancing the following factors:
- the degree of
persecution or discrimination to which the applicant is subject in their home
- the extent of the
applicant's connection with Australia;
- whether or not there
is a suitable country available, other than Australia …
- the capacity of the
Australian community to provide for the permanent settlement of persons such as
the applicant …
Issues Faced by the African Community in Australia
A number of the submissions to the Committee raised issues facing
African migrants in Australia.
One of the major issues of concern is unemployment. DEEWR told the
Data consistently show recently arrived migrants have a
higher unemployment rate than those who have lived in Australia for some years.
Several factors influence the unemployment rates of migrants ... including the
period since arrival in Australia, skill level, age, English language
proficiency, and recent and relevant work experience.
DIAC identified the following further issues as of particular concern:
- difficulties in
dealing with traumatic histories which may have involved a significant level of
violence and loss of family and friends;
- challenges to family
gender roles and traditional family structures;
- differing rates of
adjustment to Australian society between African youths and their parents;
- lack of understanding
about legal rights and responsibilities, including in situations where racism,
discrimination or domestic violence occurs;
- shortage of affordable,
suitable private rental accommodation and long waiting periods for public
- lack of cultural
sensitivity by healthcare providers in treatment options for mental illness,
and in providing aged care;
- lack of
acknowledgement of professional qualifications by employers;
- lack of affordable
- negative connotation
of the ‘refugee’ label amongst the general public;
- pressures of having
to support families in source countries and sponsor family members attempting
to visit or live in Australia; and
- concerns about
political situations in home countries.
In regard to supporting families in home countries, the Refugee Council
told the Committee that some refugees:
May be forced to sacrifice or postpone their education, work
in two jobs or forfeit holidays and other social and recreational activities in
order to send remittances to relatives.
The Refugee Council said that as a result of this situation many in the
African community are acknowledging:
The need to transcend remittances as an aid and development
strategy and instead develop more sustainable solutions which focus on capacity
building. The Australian Government could provide invaluable support in
developing these sustainable solutions through supplementing community
fundraising efforts and assisting diaspora communities in developing the
partnerships and institutional capacity necessary to implement sustainable
There are signs that the African Australian community is already moving
in such a direction. Mr Haileluel Gebre-Selassie told the Committee that
remittances flowing from Australia to Africa not only went to support families,
but ‘also assisted in opening businesses’.
In regard to African Australians’ concerns about political situations in
their home countries, the Committee received submissions from several
Australian groups and individuals expressing concerns of this nature. Several
of these submissions came from the Ethiopian community in Australia.
For example, both the Ethiopian Democratic Forum (EDF) and Mr Amare
Mekonnen called on the Australian Government to, in the words of the EDF, ‘not
support African dictators in general’, and to ‘support democratic movements’ in
Africa. Mr Mekonnen also called
for Australia to support the urgent and unconditional release of all political
The Refugee Council told the Committee that refugees from Africa, and
their first-hand experience:
... of the conditions in their countries of origin, combined
with their direct personal connections in these countries, places them in a
unique position to raise awareness about human rights issues in African
nations. These communities play a particularly important role in drawing attention
to the needs of vulnerable groups which may otherwise escape international
Dr Apollo Nsubuga-Kyobe, La Trobe University, informed the Committee
that he is:
Leading a team undertaking a major project in the Goulburn
Valley, Victoria, aimed at minimising wastage in the utilisation of the
migrants’ Knowledge, Skills and Abilities (KSAs). This research project also
aims to suggest how such KSAs could be used as a spring board for new economic
and social contribution to the region and the migrants themselves.
Mr Peter Odhiambo contended that ‘African populations in Australia are
critically under-served’, and further that ‘there are no clear policies
designed to integrate Africans into Australia as there were during the previous
waves of migration’.
The Government of Western Australia told the Committee that research has
African humanitarian entrants face a range of barriers to
inclusion and integration, particularly in the areas of employment, education
and training, social participation and political, civic and community
participation. In particular the research noted a need for targeted programs to
increase access to further education, issues associated with the high costs and
complexity of recognition of overseas qualifications and the significant
adjustment difficulties faced by African humanitarian entrants.
At the Federal level, DIAC is:
Working very closely with the
Federation of Ethnic Communities Councils of Australia to encourage them to
provide exactly that kind of support. That organisation has now created a new
subcommittee that is addressing African communities in particular.
Furthermore, DIAC has asked the Federation of Ethnic Communities
Councils ‘to pay particular attention to what we are calling “emerging communities”,
such as the African ones’.
There is interaction between DIAC and the African diaspora in Australia
at several levels. DIAC told the Committee that their community liaison
officers around the country:
… work with the community to make sure that any of their
concerns are addressed and to provide advice back to us that will help inform
our policy development or advice about issues to do with those communities.
As an organisation, we have
regular meetings with the community stakeholders to look at the various issues
and policies that might impact on African communities in Australia. We provide
a lot of information sessions for the community to educate them on Australia’s
governance systems and the way they can access other visa programs such as the
Special Humanitarian Program for their family and friends.
DIAC runs a number of programs designed to help migrants settle into
- Humanitarian entrants
are introduced to life in Australia before they arrive through the Australian
Cultural Orientation Program. This program ‘helps participants develop
realistic expectations for their lives in Australia and enhances their
settlement experience by assisting them to learn about Australian laws, values,
lifestyle and culture’. 257 of these courses have been delivered in Africa,
with 4320 participants.
- Once humanitarian
entrants arrive in Australia, the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy
attempts to assist them achieve self-sufficiency through a six-month program of
specialised settlement services. This provides reception, information about
services and assistance with things like accommodation, counselling and basic
- The Settlement Grants
Program ‘provides another level of settlement support by funding organisations
to deliver projects targeting refugees and humanitarian entrants from African
backgrounds’. These projects attempt to assist in such areas as the ‘health,
housing, education, employment, legal, and social aspects of settlement in
- English language
tuition is provided through the Adult Migrant English Program. In addition to
this, humanitarian entrants ‘with low levels of schooling, or who have had
difficult pre-migration experiences such as torture or trauma’ can access the
Special Preparatory Program.
- For those with very
low English language proficiency, DIAC offers the Translating and Interpreting
Service, which facilitates communication between individuals and ‘approved
individuals and organisations, including doctors ... and pharmacies’. This
service has provided around 50 000 translation services through 231
interpreters, covering 47 African languages.
- DIAC also provides a
DVD called Australia: A New Home, providing important information on
resettlement in Australia, including information on housing, education, money,
work, family, health, and Australian law.
- Humanitarian entrants
whose situation requires more support than is offered by the above programs are
eligible to access the Complex Case Support program.
- Africans make up 61
percent of the Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors. These are ‘non-citizen
children ... who have been granted visas for resettlement or have been found to
be refugees in the onshore asylum process and do not have a parent to care for
them in Australia’. These children become the wards of the Minister for
Immigration and Citizenship, and their care is arranged by a DIAC officer.
It must be noted that none of these programs are directed towards
Africans in particular, instead being focused on migrants and humanitarian
entrants more generally.
Professor Ware noted that in light of the lack of special programs
directed towards helping African adjust to life in Australia:
We need to take care that Africans who
come to Australia with little or no formal education are able to catch up and
do not become an underclass here. Professor Ware went on to note that these
needs were particularly pressing for such Africans because:
... the variety of information which it is necessary to
absorb to understand the details of available state and federal services is
challenging to this Australian university professor, let alone a scared and
non-literate refugee with minimal English.
The Committee strongly supports both the official and non-official
efforts made towards settling African migrants and humanitarian entrants in
Australia. It further notes the contribution the African-born community makes
to both Australia and their respective home countries, through their skills,
expertise, culture, and remittances.
However, the evidence given by Mr Odhiambo to the effect that Africans
in Australia are ‘critically underserved’ is also pertinent. As noted, no
settlement services provided by DIAC are directed at the African community
specifically, and as Mr Odhiambo notes there are no clear policies aimed at
integration as with previous waves of migrants to Australia. Such a trend would
act to increase the range of barriers to social inclusion noted by the
Government of Western Australia, and according to Professor Ware these barriers
are particularly acute in the case of African refugees.
As such, the Committee notes that more should be done to utilise the
cultural, linguistic, and practical expertise of Africans already in Australia
in terms of making the settlement process even smoother. This would assist in
better tailoring the settlement programs to the needs of Africans, and
particularly vulnerable communities such as humanitarian entrants from
prolonged conflicts such as those in Southern Sudan and the Democratic Republic
of the Congo.
Utilising the Australian African Community
The South African High Commissioner told the Committee that:
An important part of the work
that we do here is to cultivate relations with the South African diaspora. It
is a significant diaspora. We think that as a community they are very much in a
position to make a positive influence on our relations, a positive influence on
the balance of both trade and investment. Being people who know people and
processes both on that side as well as on this side, we think they are in a
unique position to assist us in that.
On the African community in Australia more generally, Dr David Dorwood
told the Committee that the human resource represented by the African community
was ‘underutilised’, and given the lack of expertise on Africa in Australian
universities and in DFAT, should be given a greater role through better
recognition of their qualifications.
Furthermore, Dr Dorwood told the Committee:
Many African refugees/migrants have tertiary qualifications,
as well as significant family and informal contacts in their country of origin.
Except for a limited range of institutions – the police, welfare services and
the Refugee Review Tribunal, few government organisations or the corporate
sector have made an effort to recruit individuals from these communities.
Mr Haileluel Gebre-Selassie informed the Committee that while current efforts
at reengagement with Africa were commendable, ‘there is definite potential for
greater involvement by African-Australians in the initiatives’.
By actively engaging with African-Australians ... who have
valuable links and access to their respective countries, the Australia
government can do much to foster stronger cultural and business ties between
Australia and African countries.
An exhibit provided by Mr Gebre-Selassie draws attention to the recently
created Africa Australia Association—Africalink organisation which has the
- Engage in education
and training activities
- Conduct annual forums
- Engage African
diasporas, NGOs and governments
- Identify and promote
- Promote people to
An example of a successful attempt at utilising African-Australians to
foster greater cultural ties with Africa was given to the Committee by
Professor Martin Mhando. The project, run by Murdoch University:
Allows for Africans in Australia to communicate about their
experiences to Africans on the main continent. We take films of the Aboriginal
community and show them in two festivals in Rwanda and Tanzania.
Professor Mhando told the Committee that he spent time in 2006 and 2007
teaching Rwandan, Kenyans, Burundians and Tanzanians to make films that help to
spread information and knowledge between villagers about a cassava disease in a
way that is culturally appropriate and easier to understand because:
We did not expect that the scientists from America who were doing
the research would be able to explain that in the same terms as a villager
would explain it to another villager.
In doing so, Professor Mhando was building on his experiences in
Aboriginal communities in Australia. He characterised these efforts as being:
The direct link between my being in Australia and the
experiences, knowledge and skills that I get from Australia, and transferring
them to the African context.
The Committee notes the potential for the many African-born Australian
residents to make a real contribution to relations between Australia and the
countries of Africa. Furthermore, the diverse range of countries and cultures
from which they come widens the scope for the development of relations.
Efforts to build on and expand cultural relations and interchange, such
as those undertaken by Murdoch University and Professor Mhando, are a real
boost for Australia’s relationship with Africa, particularly at the grassroots
level. Activities that achieve this, as well as providing mutual benefits to
both African countries and Australia, should be officially encouraged and
The proposed Australia-Africa Council should include within
its goals, support for activities that encourage and facilitate cultural
interchange and exchange, particularly including the Australian African
Senator Michael Forshaw