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10 July 2012
Australia risks creating an environment similar to Germany where temporary migrants are marginalised and excluded because they are not part of wider multicultural thinking and are often left on the margins of mainstream society, a national conference on multiculturalism at Deakin University was warned.
Dr Hass Dellal, Executive Director of the Australian Multicultural Foundation, told the conference hosted by the University’s strategic research Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation, that the surge in temporary migrants through international education and guest worker programs along with the lack of bipartisan leadership on issues such as asylum seekers was one of the biggest challenges to multiculturalism and a cohesive and inclusive Australia.
“Have we done enough work in this area to understand the impact of temporary residents?” Dr Hass Dellal asked.
“Here is a country where its notion of integration and multiculturalism has been built around the values of citizenship and participation.
“Are our programs our version of the German guest worker model?
“What sort of problems are we creating?
“It’s a whole new phenomena and it’s starting to play itself out in terms of some of the dislocation and removal of participation and the treatment and attitudes towards some of these groups.”
Dr Dellal said the concerns about the needs of temporary migrants were exacerbated by the relationships between different minority groups where issues from the first generation played out in the second and third generations.
“It can’t be helped but the burden of history that people bring with them, creates issues,” he said.
Dr Dellal said closer attention also needed to be paid to the preparedness or lack of preparedness in growth corridors for the integration challenges brought by an influx of migrants as well the needs of regional Australia.
“Regional Australia, is still not in the debate,” he said.
“They are just not there.
“We go out and do all these little programs and set up all these hubs but wider regional Australia is not in the wider multicultural debate.
“We do not engage them and because of this we have a number of problems, issues and perceptions.”
Earlier in the conference Mr Warren Pearson, Assistant Secretary, Multicultural Affairs, Department of Immigration and Citizenship said one of the challenges multiculturalism in Australia faced was building resistance to migration.
“I think the point made earlier about where does asylum, migration and multiculturalism intersect was a good one,” he said.
“I think that where people are part of the political elite that the differences in these things is understood but I do wonder if that gets confused and merged together in the minds of people out on the streets who are getting on with their lives as usual.
Mr Pearson said people found it difficult to separate out the migration program, from the refugee and humanitarian programs, people coming off shore, people having visas granted offshore and onshore and then multiculturalism.
“How does that all fit?” he asked
“The reality is that they are different but if you the theorists and me the government ask people to think about it I wonder if they are confused, I wonder if they are less clear about it.
“So I am not sure it is fear, I wonder if it is confusion, a lack of clarity.”
Deakin University Director of the Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation, Professor Fethi Mansouri said the language and rhetoric used, in particular about the asylum seeker issue made it difficult for people to not be fearful.
“Why is it when we approach the issue of asylum seekers and refugees the government stance on this over the years doesn’t really send a clear signal, nor is it attuned to the moral implications of the language they use,” he said.
“The reason why there is fear is that we are not just saying no to the asylum seekers, you can say no.
“We can say we would like to take x number of asylum seekers and this is where we will take them.
“I think that the problem many of us have had with the Government’s handling of this is that in addition to us saying no to them we characterise them, we racialise some of them, we raise some doubts about the legality, the morality, even the character of these people.
“That is what creates fear.”
Carmel Guerra, Chief Executive Officer, Centre for Multicultural Youth, echoed the call for more attention to be paid to the how multiculturalism was faring in the outer growth corridors and regional areas of Melbourne but said overall the view of young people towards multiculturalism was quite different.
“When we talk about multiculturalism the kind of things we hear and are being said are is that they are being set from a distance, they are aspirational, there’s a degree of hope, there is always a willingness to want to be part of change and that they see themselves as wanting to be part of the community,” she said.
Ms Guerra said while young people generally took a positive view, to the point where they asked ‘what problem are you talking about’, there where issues to be addressed.
“Our ongoing work with international students concerns me a lot about what we are doing,” she said.
“The kind of sub cultures of young people we are creating, there are issues there about where young people are living, the connections through work, the disadvantage, the way that they relate, the lack of intercultural connection they have which seems to work against what international students are experiencing, there seems to be a real divide.”
Ms Guerra also called for research outcomes to produce evidence that advocacy groups could use to drive policy change.
“Often the research outcomes are more important than what we as your funding partner requires for policy change.”
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