Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Working with the Vulnerable but Meritorious: The Non-Governmental and Public Sectors and African Refugees in Melbourne

Academic journal article Journal of Sociology

Working with the Vulnerable but Meritorious: The Non-Governmental and Public Sectors and African Refugees in Melbourne

Article excerpt

Introduction

Over the last 15 years, Australia has been the host country for more than 5000 Oromos, Eritreans, Hararis, Tigrays, Amharas, Somalis, Somalilanders, northern and southern Sudanese, Ogadens, Liberians, Rwandans, Sierra Leoneans and Democratic Republic of the Congo residents, with most coming under the Refugee and Special Humanitarian Programme (DIMA, 1999; Jupp et al., 1991; Jupp, 1994; Majka, 1997). Three thousand or 66 percent of settler arrivals from Ethiopia, 74 percent from Somalia and Somaliland, 22 percent from the Sudan, and a much smaller proportion of Ogadens, Liberians and other Africans have settled in Victoria (BIMPR, 1995; Majka, 1997). Virtually all African recent arrivals and longer-term residents in Victoria live in the Melbourne area.

The African refugee subpopulations making Australia their new home represent a range of socioeconomic, tribal, clan, religious, political, language, cultural and age groups (Batrouney, 1991; Majka, 1997). In addition, they illustrate a wide variety of refugee resettlement difficulties related to trauma, unemployment, poor health, isolation and anxiety (1) (Iredale et al., 1996; Jupp, 1994). In response to this broad and diverse population, non-governmental organizations (generalist and ethno-specific) and public agencies and departments have intervened through the design and implementation of a heterogeneous group of policies, projects and programmes (Eyles, 1990; Jupp, 1994, 1995; Lamphier and Lukomskyj, 1994; Cox, 1996; Castles et al., 1998). The aid endeavours reflect local community needs and express the relief institutions' own historical and institutional roles, modes of organization, politics and ideologies.

The purpose of this article is to relate some initial findings from a study of the 56 generalist, mutual aid, cultural, social, political, economic and religious organizations that cater to Africans who have suffered through the turmoil of war, refugee life and disruption. The Melbourne study addresses the following interrelated questions:

1. What is the Australian infrastructure (that is, macro-organizational configuration or system design) that has emerged for aiding Africans?

2. What primary purposes have Australian NGOs and public organizations adopted in their work with Africans?

3. What projects, initiatives and programmes are represented in individual and interorganizational assistance agendas?

These three questions are of social, cultural and economic importance, both in Victoria and across the country, yet there are insufficient data to make well-based judgements on the issues at present.

Data and methods

Data on generalist and ethno-specific organizations were gathered by means of published and unpublished primary and secondary documents, preliminary qualitative work and extensive survey interviews with the directors and coordinators of 56 NGOs and public organizations. Documentary materials were primarily procured from the leaders, department heads and programme administrators of the assorted organizations and initiatives involved. If an institution maintained archival collections, these holdings were also scrutinized. Supplemental primary and secondary sources were acquired from collections housed at the Centre for Migrant and Intercultural Studies, Monash University, the Bureau of Immigration, Multicultural and Population Research (BIMPR) and the Clearing House for Migration Issues.

Concerning the survey data, a two-stage process was used to acquire organizational respondents. The chair of the Refugee Council of Australia (a Melbourne resident), and the directors of coordinating bodies and other lead organizations and departments with branches in the Melbourne area (Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the Refugee Advice and Casework Unit and the BIMPR) were queried by means of unstructured interviews about the Australian African initiative. …

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