Australia is one of the most successful multicultural societies and proud diverse nations. With 26 percent of its population overseas-born, Australia is home to fifty three thousand people who trace their ancestries back to Afghanistan. Afghan-Australians actively participate in the country’s economy and social development to bring prosperity to their family, community and the society as a whole. However, as most Afghan-Australians underwent refugee experience during their life or before reaching Australia, they have often faced denial of some basic human rights, spending time in long-term mandatory detention; having their cases rejected despite being recognized as genuine refugees, facing extensive delays in the citizenship process; and being forbidden to go back home for certain period of time. Social inclusion and pathways in the areas of education, employment, health and family issues are very important to Afghan-Australians to improve their quality of life. However, Afghan-Australians still do not receive proper services in order to easily integrate into Australia’s society.
Background and historical challenges
With the abolishment of the Australia White Policy, multiculturalism and diversity became important characteristics of Australia from 1960s and 1970s. Today, Australia is home to 23.4 million people, speaking 400 languages and dialects and identifying themselves as coming from 270 ancestries. Among them, fifty three thousand people trace their ancestry back to Afghanistan, first arriving in Australia as cameleers. Starting from 1860s, Afghan camel-men played significant role in providing labour in dry and hot climate of central Australia and other parts of the country. They served on some key projects including the Overland Telegraph Line between Darwin and Adelaide, the Queensland Border Fence, the Transcontinental Railway Line between Port Augusta, South Australia and Kalgoorlie, Western Australia, the Rabbit Proof Fence and the Canning Stock Route in Western Australia. The remnants of these Afghan cameleers can still be found in all over Australia. The Date Palms in Alice Springs and the Goldfields of Western Australia, the cemeteries in Marree, Broken Hill, and established Masjids (Mosques) in South and Western Australia are additional examples. Though the Adelaide – Darwin train route, The Ghan, is named in the honor of Afghan camel-men, the nineteenth century racial intolerance, especially the Immigration Restriction Act known as the White Australia Policy, refused to naturalise Afghans and other minorities.
The second wave of Afghan migration to Australia began from 1970s onward. Following the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan in 1979, the internal war of the early 1990s and the Taliban capture of Kabul in the mid 1990s, millions of Afghans fled their homeland as refugees and thousands of them reached Australia. The Australian 2016 Census records 53,082 people with Afghan ancestry. Considering the negative impacts of the White Australia Policy and comparing the growth of the Afghan populations in Australia during the first wave of 1859 to 1980 with those of British settlers or overall populations, we can easily find a notable decline in Afghan population trends. The Australian Bureau of Statistics reports overall Australian population growth from 1.09 million in 1859 to almost 15 million in 1980, showing a 14-fold increases. However, the Afghan population increased only 2 fold, from 394 to 877, during the above mentioned period.
Though the second generations of Afghan-Australians in the country try hard to create new lives, new arrivals face many challenges in finding jobs, getting recognition of their educational qualification and professional experiences, and access to essential services, especially mental and other health needs.
Since many Afghan-born Australians women had limited access to school or left school unfinished because of war, they remained illiterate. Reaching Australia, they face many challenges in continuing their school. While some have limited English language skills, most of them do not have access to government support program, such as HECS HELP or government interest-free loan, to continue their schooling. The Australian government, instead of easing the process, adds more obstacles, which result the Afghan-Australian women suffering the most.
Visas and citizenship are among many obstacles. While the normal time period in becoming a citizen after lodging an application is 6 to 18 months, the Afghan waiting period for Australian citizenship is over 54 months from becoming eligible in first four years. By the time Afghans become eligible for government support to pursue their education, the desire for further study may have long gone.
Another most common barrier that Afghans face is recognition of their overseas qualification and experience. Though most of the new arrivals are equipped with the required educational qualifications, knowledge and experience in their field of studies and jobs, their overseas qualification(s) and experience are not recognised in Australia. While language and dissimilarity of education systems are said to be the reasons, the Department of Education ignores the basic facts that diverse experience and diverse qualifications are the backbone of innovation and knowledge exchange in educational and professional environments.
Above all, and most importantly, the high rate of post-migration stress and depression is increasing among the Afghan-born Australians. Long family reunion process, isolation from the community, discrimination in the shops, on buses, and in offices are some of the factors that heavily impact on Afghan-Australians. Self-harm of various kinds and suicide are some of the extreme consequences of depressions, mental illness and post-migration stress that continuously impacts upon the lives of Afghan-Australians in Australia.
First brought to Australia in 1850s as a group of cameleers, today fifty three thousand people who trace their ancestry to Afghanistan live in Australia. Though Afghan-Australians are benefiting from peaceful lives, they face serious barriers and challenges during their settlement and integration processes.
Long-term mandatory detentions resulting in shock and trauma, post-migration stress and depressions, mental illness, discrimination of various kinds, unemployment and low literacy rate are very high among the Afghan-Australians. Forced repatriation to their home country despite being recognized as genuine refugees, long family reunion processes, long waiting periods for citizenship and rejections of their overseas qualifications and experience have been seriously impacted upon Afghan-Australians in their social inclusion process and integration into Australia’s society.
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