Problems faced by African refugee women during resettlement in Toowoomba, Australia

Mrs Dianne Henderson (). Problems faced by African refugee women during resettlement in Toowoomba, Australia Professional Doctorate, , The University of Queensland.

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Author Mrs Dianne Henderson
Thesis Title Problems faced by African refugee women during resettlement in Toowoomba, Australia
Institution The University of Queensland
Thesis type Professional Doctorate
Supervisor Elske van der Fliert
Total pages 161
Language eng
Subjects 16 Studies in Human Society
160803 Race and Ethnic Relations
Abstract/Summary This qualitative study investigates the issues encountered by refugee women as they resettle in the regional centre of Toowoomba, Queensland, Australia. The city, in the Darling Downs region of Southeast Queensland, was designated by the Australian Government as a regional resettlement destination for African refugees in the mid-nineties. Refugees from Southern Sudan were the main group to be supported at this time. Its rural location in reasonable proximity to a capital city, affordable housing, relatively positive employment prospects and provision of a variety of services and facilities made it an appropriate choice for refugee resettlement. The investigation is centred on questions relating to three areas: the identification by the refugee women of their most significant resettlement issues; the role of age, ethnicity, education and length of time in Australia within the identification process; and possible points of comparison between key issues emerging in Toowoomba and those in some other local areas. In view of the fact that the Australian Government’s original humanitarian focus in Toowoomba was the resettlement of Sudanese refugees, the majority of the participants of this study are Southern Sudanese. There are small representations from Liberia, Burundi and the Democratic Republic of Congo. Data were collected from eighteen women in two different age categories, under and over forty years, and who had been in Australia for two different time periods, less and more than two years. Methods of data collection included focus groups, semi-structured interviews and participant observation. The focus groups were conducted at the outset of the study in order to introduce the women to the researcher and from which eighteen women were later selected. These group discussions took place at the TRAMS Centre (Toowoomba Refugee and Migrant Services). Individual interviews with the women and TRAMS Co-ordinator were held at TRAMS and in the homes of some interviewees. Participants were purposefully selected according to their English language ability so that translation problems were minimised. Findings indicated that acquiring language skills, finding employment and securing housing were the issues identified as most significant by all participants. Learning the language was regarded as most significant with all of the women highly motivated to become proficient in reading, speaking and writing English. Most of them believed that the period of Government funded instruction was far too short and were grateful to TRAMS for providing further learning opportunities. The desire for employment proved to be the most dominant motivation for learning the language but it was also believed that a sound knowledge of English was essential for personal development and social inclusion. Nearly three quarters of the respondents rated the search for work as one of the three most significant challenges. Most of the remainder did not wish to work outside the home at this stage because of their young families. Key factors emerging were their low expectations in relation to the type of work available to them, the difficulty of obtaining specific qualifications which may broaden their choices beyond manual work and, in some cases, the prejudice that they perceived from potential employers. Most felt that a better grasp of the English language would assist in all of these areas, although some sensed that employers in Toowoomba underestimated the strength of the African work ethic. Just over a quarter of the women rated finding a home a major issue. The TRAMS Co-ordinator and the women most affected believed this to be a result of the small amount of rental accommodation available in Toowoomba, the lack of a tenancy record with which to re-assure landlords and real estate agents, and the costs involved. Other important issues which arose from the interview sessions related to relationship building in the new environment, their children’s futures, members of their family left behind in camps or the home country and the trauma of the pre-migration period. Age, ethnicity, educational background and length of time in Australia were all found to be significant in the identification process, although not all factors influenced all of the challenges that were nominated. Similar major problems were identified by refugees in other projects in Australia, each organization dealing with the issues according to the needs and resources of their situation. Findings of the study are discussed within the social healing and social capital theoretical frameworks, and the role of TRAMS in the process of healing and the development of refugee social capital is evidenced. As a consequence, the participants of this investigation, through their involvement with TRAMS, are positioned to be effectively progressed on their journey towards resettlement.

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Created: Sun, 24 Jun 2012, 22:12:36 EST by Mrs Dianne Henderson on behalf of Faculty of Social & Behavioural Sciences