Australian Human Rights Commission

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    Research into the issues, characteristics and needs of migrants and refugees from African countries settling in Australia are currently being undertaken by academic institutions, community organisations and federal, state and local governments. In particular, there has been a recent surge of both academic and community-based research undertaken by African Australians in an effort to provide greater voice to their communities.

    An initial literature review was prepared in January 2009 by Ann Reiner from the Australian Human Rights Commission (Commission) prior to the organisation commencing its African Australians Project: Human rights and social inclusion issues.

    The goal of the literature review was to summarise the current knowledge and research on issues particular to African Australian communities and to provide a context for the consultation methodologies and questions that the Commission would employ in the project.

    The literature review, however, continued to expand as additional reference materials were identified during the community and stakeholder consultations, which were conducted by Myriad Consultants on behalf of the Commission.

    Participants felt that it was critical that specific efforts were made to identify and include research and reports written by members of the African Australian community. It quickly became apparent that there is no shortage of such material, although sourcing it is not without challenge.1

    As a result, the final literature review combines information and material sourced throughout the different project stages and community consultations.

2Structure of review

    The literature review is set out under the follow headings for clarity and ease of reading:

  • Approach

  • Important definitions

  • Previously successful refugee assistance programs

  • Support services

  • Common barriers to using services and understanding systems

  • Law enforcement

  • Language barriers

  • Interpreters

  • Barriers to employment

  • Barriers that can affect employability

  • Education and young people

  • Social pressures on young people

  • Family and culture

  • Women’s isolation

  • Issues for Muslim women

  • Women and violence

  • Housing

  • Health issues

  • Diet

  • Trauma and mental health

  • Impact on communities, families and social support networks

  • Community cohesion and support

  • Social inclusion, exclusion and discrimination

  • Case management approach


    This literature review attempts to summarise the large body of research on the situation of Africans migrating to and living in Australia. It also aims to highlight the point that viewing all Africans as part of a single ‘African community’ is erroneous. Instead ‘African’ should be used carefully as an overarching term that attempts to describe a conglomeration of communities from a continent nearly four times as large as Australia and comprised of 53 countries.

    The literature review examines these communities based on the fact that the majority of, though certainly not all, Africans who have arrived in Australia in recent years have come as either refugees or through the special humanitarian migration program. However, once in Australia, they deserve to be treated as Australians. Unfortunately, as the research highlights, it is often the case that Africans continue to be treated by mainstream Australia as a homogenous community, once and always refugees, and not as active and contributing members of the Australian society.

    The literature review also includes research and reports written by members of the African Australian community. As African researchers have identified, however, widespread silencing of African voices has resulted in such work being largely ‘hidden’ from the public domain until recently.2

3.1Newly- arrived and established communities

    The literature was examined with two distinct ‘sets’ of communities in mind. Firstly, the review considers the established African communities who have been living in Australia for some time. While acknowledging the great diversity among Africans, especially with respect to language, culture and religion, this document aims to highlight the current situation facing established communities of African descent.

    Secondly, and in greater depth, the review looks at the situation facing new arrivals from Africa settling in Australia. It examines what services are available; whether they are appropriate and accessible; where gaps in services and assistance exist; and what monitoring and evaluation of these services is taking place to ensure that newly-arrived refugees and humanitarian migrants have the best possible foundation to build a successful life for themselves, their families and their communities.

    The broad community of Africans in Australia today is dynamic, constantly changing and growing as new groups arrive from different countries, cultures and backgrounds. It is not possible to consider the situation facing those communities which are long-settled in Australia without also examining how newly-arrived individuals and communities are faring, as well as the interactions between and among these groups.

    The existing literature is examined with respect to the key themes of the Commission’s African Australians Project

    A common thread in the literature is that the prospects for individuals and communities, and their ability to settle and thrive in Australia, are greatly influenced by the issues they face on arrival and the support they receive. With this in mind, ‘best practice’ approaches are highlighted and gaps in evidenced-based programs are noted.

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