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5 December 2013
Sport and going to the park might be part of the Australian way of life, but for young people from migrant backgrounds this is not enough to overcome their isolation from the wider community, research by Deakin and Monash universities has found.
Professor Fethi Mansouri, from Deakin University’s Centre for Citizenship and Globalisation, and Professor Zlatko Skrbis from Monash University who interviewed young people from African, Arabic-speaking and Pacific Islander communities in Melbourne and Queensland said Australia’s civic leaders need to look beyond the mainstream recreational facilities and activities such as sport and parks if they wanted to build connectedness and trust among different cultural groups and help young people from migrant backgrounds feel included in society.
“We need to go beyond sport, parks and other mainstream activities and consider more culturally sensitive ways to engage young people in these groups and thus help them grow into active citizens in our community.”
Professor Mansouri and Professor Skrbis also called for young people from diverse backgrounds to be given more opportunities to voice their experiences to a wider Australian public and for government and service providers to recognise that these young people engaged in a range of formal an informal volunteering activities in their communities which should be encouraged.
The study, which involved well over 500 participants, was funded by the Australian Research Council Linkage program in partnership with the Centre for Multicultural Youth and the Australian Red Cross.
It looked at the extent to which the young people from the different groups used formal and informal networks to develop social connections and a sense of belonging in Australia’s multicultural society.
“Research has shown that since 9/11 Arabic-speaking youth have experienced a heightened sense of marginalisation,” Professor Mansouri explained.
“Similarly African youth have been described as problematic and unable to integrate into society and as a result potentially a major threat to social cohesion in Australia while young people from Pacific Islander backgrounds account for a disproportionate rate of crime.”
Professor Mansouri said significantly the research had shown that the young people were very connected within their own cultural communities particularly through religious groups or groups based in schools or recreation clubs, with the same friends and faces likely to reappear in different contexts.
“Pacific Islander youth had the highest participation rate in religious organisations in Melbourne which fed into their extensive involvement in church and cultural activities.
“African interviewees, many of whom arrived recently as refugees, rely on services supported by state and federal agencies, corporate partners, philanthropic organisations or individuals to create their networks.
“Arabic speaking youth are highly engaged with formal networks, and volunteer at agencies such as the Cancer Council or formal social clubs such as Al Nisa, and other networks through their place of worship.”
Professor Mansouri said while the young people wanted to mix with other cultural groups – for varying reasons – their busy lives and community commitments made it difficult.
“When they made the effort to meet people outside their own cultural group, experiences of racism as well as a lack of trust reinforced their decision to disengage from certain networks,” he said.
“For African and Arabic-speaking young people direct experience of racism was the greatest single factor for social withdrawal with both groups citing incidences of verbal assault or being singled out in a group based on appearance.
“For Pacific Islanders however the experience was slightly different but had the same result because the people or the networks they interacted with held stereotypes about how Pacific Islanders would behave.”
Professor Mansouri said only 45% of the total participants surveyed felt people could be trusted. Interestingly, however, one of the key findings of this study was that contrary to popular belief, young people of migrant background are very discerning in cultivating and sustaining social networks.
“Whilst they still engage in cross-cultural networks, they often turn to immediate family members whenever they encounter problems and difficulties in their personal lives,” he said.
Therefore, “a comprehensive program drawing on a culturally appropriate family approach by service providers could have some positive benefits.”
Professor Mansouri said the overwhelming outcome of this study was that governments and peak agencies need to acknowledge the importance of a mixed approach to service provision for migrant youth.
“Combining mainstream service delivery with culturally appropriate services delivered through community organisations would ensure optimal reach and impact,” he said.
“This is especially the case for a demographic group that has been disproportionally represented in problematized public debates.”
Deakin Media Relations
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Professor Fethi Mansouri, lead author of the report
Listen to Professor Fethi Mansouri talk about the findings in the report
Click here to read the full report
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