Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Working for a Living

Educated migrants and refugees are increasingly turning to the poorly paid menial work in order to survive, as a result of subtle forms of discrimination and non-recognition of their academic and professional qualifications in Australia. But menial work is not everyone’s cup of popcorn.

“I work as a cleaner most of the time; and I’m not afraid to get my hands dirty”, said Sam Chol, a Sudanese refugee whose noble proletarian ethics is the envy of all.

“I’ve washed dishes in the restaurants, work in factories, and even drive a taxi for a living”.

Sam is a thoroughly flexible modern worker; who is not ashamed of odd jobs, who knows a thing or two about the struggle for survival. But he is not alone!

Generally, most of the Africans I know do tend to prefer paid work, of any definition, to welfare cheques. In fact, they hate the dole - they really do! Since working for a living is the African way of being, there is a strong belief among the new arrivals that work provides a stepping stone towards greater prosperity and a better life in Australia.

For example, the new refugees from Liberia and Sierra Leone have made their presence felt in the Australian labour market within a relatively short time; working as factory hands, nurses, cleaners, childcare workers, cooks, and aged care providers; injecting a healthy dose of African optimism and high spirits into the Australian economy and society.

Nevertheless, a significant number of the new migrants are still unaccustomed to manual labour. They still dream of the good old days; dwelling on their former glory; and always reflecting upon the superior lifestyle, they believed, they once enjoyed.

For instance, some elements of the post-independence elites of tropical Africa who, by a cruel twist of fate, now find themselves in exile in a strange new land, naturally give short shrift to any idea of menial work. Having been unduly influenced by the trappings of class privileges (and the values of “labour aristocracy”), they would not even consider manual work as an alternative to idleness.

“I’m looking for a good job”, Charles Idowu informed me recently. “Nothing blue-collar, mind you…Menial work is not for me. That’s what my servants used to do back home in Africa”.

Sadly, those bogged down in the past have no future to speak of; and are losing their status and health in the new order. (Work is directly responsible for our health and wellbeing.)

Generally though, the new generation of African migrants and refugees in Australia are really trying to work hard for a living; doing odd jobs as they come. Some are forging ahead in the services sector, running small businesses of their own; while others “work and study” to improve themselves.

Monday, June 27, 2005

The Other Side of the Brain Drain

The decision by the Australian government to grant permanent resident status to successful overseas students has brought enormous benefits to the country; increasing the nation’s human resource base.

This is one of the best decisions this government has ever made!

In fact, the policy is so successful that the number of applicants for permanent residency in Australia has doubled since the program came into being in 2001.

Sunday, June 26, 2005

The Rise and Fall of the New Man

A silent revolution is taking place in the emerging African communities in Australia. But not everyone is happy with the recent developments in the new order, as roles and responsibilities continue to change.

The point to note is that the once proud and powerful African men have swapped their traditional role as the sole breadwinner for more home duties, through no fault of their own. They are the victims of circumstances!

In the age of constant change, the traditional power relationship between men and women is breaking down faster than one could imagine. Gone are the dominant male ethos and the sharp distinction between the public and private domains. The division of labor along gender lines has all but disappeared; giving way to a more inclusive definition of roles and responsibilities. Hence, the rise of the new man!

In families where women have a measure of economic power and the freedom that goes with it, and where men are generally unemployed or under-employed, the definition of the breadwinner has changed forever. The glow of feminine power (and glory) is there for all to see – a development that has been more evident in the new and emerging communities than anywhere else in Australia.

Thus, for the first time in living memory, the hitherto powerless African woman has tasted the fruits of real power and freedom in domestic affairs. And having achieved the all important financial power in her own right, she is not about to relinquish control.

Thanks to the phenomenon of migration which has been a positive factor in women’s lives. And an absolute nightmare for the African men!

Now, the all powerful (and all conquering) male has become a sorrowful soul in exile; and no one cares.

In fact, as the female member of the household becomes the new breadwinner by default, it’s the hapless male who does all the cooking and cleaning and washing and ironing; albeit, for reasons of survival (although, deep down, most men still look to the “good old days”; obviously believing that staying at home with kids is a woman’s work). Indeed, this is a new and challenging development for the African man in Australia.

Nevertheless, the new man is a loving and caring man, who brings a lot of talent and creativity to the new society. He probably feels comfortable working at home; caring for his wife and kids; doing the daily battle for survival, while at the same time trying to come to terms with the demands of living in a post-industrial society.

But things are not always what they seem!

And even in the best of times, the new power relations is taking its toll on the African family; increasing tension at home and, inevitably, leading to a high rate of separation and divorce; especially among the new migrants and refugees.

Thus, having lost his traditional power and status in the new and ever-changing environment, the African man is a shadow of his former self – a dejected soul pre-occupied with status anxiety; forever dreaming of honor and respect!

Now, to add insult to injury, his self-image has been damaged beyond repairs. He thinks he could no longer discipline his children. Nor punish. Nor impose his will on the family, as he used to do in the old country.

Friday, June 24, 2005

Women in Slavery

The age of slavery is not dead. If anything, it is alive and well.

Indeed, it is worth reflecting on the fact that more than 1000 women in Australia are living in slavery after falling victim to human trafficking rings (the modern day slave traders), according to the report by the human rights advocacy group.

These unfortunate women are the would-be migrants who ended up in an appalling and deplorable conditions of slavery.

Thursday, June 23, 2005

Songs of Hope

The remarkable watoto African choir singers, made up of the Ugandan AIDS orphans, have landed in Australia with songs of hope in their hearts.

Meanwhile, they are in Adelaide city to raise awareness of the HIV/AIDS pandemic.

The watoto choir will entertain the Australian audience with traditional African tribal rhythms and dance, before moving on to New Zealand and Singapore.

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

The Taste of Freedom

The man of the moment is Peter Qasim, a desperate and stateless soul, whose endless cry for freedom has touched the hearts and minds of many Australians.

Now, as luck would have it, he has managed to win back his freedom after spending nearly seven years of his young life behind the razor wire - all because he entered Australia illegally.

Finally, the Australian authorities have given him enough reason to live; issuing a visa that will free him from indefinite immigration detention.

But that’s not the end of the story!

Meanwhile, Peter is one of the long-term detainees being treated at Adelaide’s psychiatric hospital in South Australia.

Tuesday, June 21, 2005

World Refugee Day Forum

Creating a multicultural community is a task that must be done! So says the organiser of this year’s World Refugee Day Forum in Adelaide, South Australia. The forum focused on the issues affecting cultural development in the new and emerging communities. And was well attended!

The theme of the forum was “The courage to create a multicultural Australia”, with participants drawn from a wide range of communities.

Ibrahim Jabateh, the President of the Liberian community in South Australia was there. So were the representatives from the Refugee Youth Network.

Monday, June 20, 2005

Australian Citizenship Ceremony

The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs (DIMIA) is conducting a special Australian citizenship ceremony to mark the World Refugee Day. And I am extremely delighted to report that refugees from a diverse group of countries will be conferred with the Australian citizenship.

The event will be held at the Migrant Resource Centre in Adelaide, South Australia. And light refreshments will be provided, to celebrate this unique occasion.

World Refugee Day Empowers

Thousands of Australians mark the World Refugee Day, as mass demonstrations across the country condemn the policy of mandatory detention of refugees and asylum-seekers. The issue still looms large in the public imagination, despite recent concessions by the Federal Government.

Saturday, June 18, 2005

A Big Win for the Refugees

The Australian Prime Minister, John Howard, has made significant concessions on the controversial policy of mandatory detention of refugees and asylum-seekers who enter the country illegally. But the fundamental basis of policy remains unchanged.

Essentially though, a better refugee policy is emerging in Australia. And the big winners are families, women, children, asylum-seekers behind the razor wire, and holders of Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs).

Thus, under the new policy framework, long-suffering parents and children will be freed from indefinite detention and thousands of people on temporary protection visas seeking permanent residency would have their applications to live in Australia fast-tracked.

Generally, the new sensibility in Australia’s refugee policy has given the Immigration Minister the discretion to release children and their families into the Australian community; ending years of detention.

On the whole, it’s a big win for the refugees and the asylum seekers.

More stories on

Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Church and State

The Egyptian Orthodox Christian community in South Australia has grown steadily over the past two decades. But its recent decision to embark on an ambitious expansion program (and build a new hall for its Sunday school classes) has been flatly rejected by the West Torrens Council.

The Councilors, in their wisdom, argued that the expansion proposal did not serve the needs of the wider society. The Coptic orthodox congregation is not amused.

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Divorced Fathers Come in From the Cold

A significant change in Australia’s child maintenance policy is in the offing, according to the recent proposal. The big news in town is that almost two-thirds of the long-suffering divorced fathers would pay less in child support.

But there is a sting in the (de)tail.

Under the new dispensation, the cost of supporting children will be determined on the basis of the parents’ combined income. And the total cost of maintenance will be distributed between the parents according their capacity to pay and the time they spend with the children.

Thus, for the first time, overtime payments and income from second jobs are exempted from the assessment of the father’s income. Furthermore, divorced fathers who have a new family will be able to set aside a portion of their income for the new child before being forced to pay maintenance.

This, indeed, is a clear win for the divorced father’s. But the big brother is watching!

Nevertheless, in the new formula, custodial parents - mostly women – would keep all the family tax benefits; unless the father has the child more than 35 per cent of the time. A big win for the hard-working mothers!

But, in the final analysis, divorced fathers still have more reasons to celebrate. They will pay less in child maintenance and still manage to keep some cash for their new families.

Tuesday, June 14, 2005

On Mandatory Detention Bills

The Australian rebel MP, Petro Georgiou, has decided to push ahead with the process of introducing two private member’s bills into the Australian parliament. The bills are aimed at dismantling the controversial policy of mandatory detention of asylum-seekers and refugees who enter the country illegally.

The principal objective of the bills is to release long-term detainees into the community (and abolish indefinite detention). Thus, if successful, those on temporary protection visas would be allowed to stay in Australia permanently.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Bush Rejoices as the Heavens Open

The Australian farmers were praying for rain. But they got more than they bargained for as the heavy downpour, flash floods, and wild storms hit many areas of the country; bringing an end to the worst drought in decades.

And, despite serious property damage in some areas, farmers throughout the land are celebrating their good fortune as the heavens open just in time; resurrecting their hopes for a decent grain production this year.

The rain virtually ends the blues!

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Dreaming of the Promised Land

The road to the Promised Land is not for the tenderfoot. But dozens of hardworking farmers across Australia have shown real interest in taking up the offer of free land and tax free farming opportunity in Kenya and Tanzania, despite the risk.

The free land sweetener offered by the African countries to boost agricultural productivity is great news to the experienced and well resourced farmers. This is a value proposition that is virtually unheard of in today’s highly competitive marketplace. And those farmers who are looking for a good investment outlet and a new challenge are responding accordingly.

In South Australia, for instance, the newly established African Chamber of Commerce (AFRICOM) have been inundated with calls by the long-suffering farmers who see the Promised Land as an attractive proposition, a great opportunity for the future!

But, first, they must learn the language, the culture, and the African tradition, although such great learning is not a prerequisite for entry.

Monday, June 06, 2005

A Child is Born

A bouncing baby boy brings an enormous joy to the Sudanese family in South Australia. Garang Buol was born in Modbury hospital on 31st May 2005 with her mother’s beautiful eyes and jet black hair.

Thus, for the first time since their arrival in this great country as refugees a few years ago, Johnson Juuk and his wife, Aluel M. Biar, have finally got something to write home about; and something very special to celebrate. The birth of Garang has put a big smile on their faces.

Meanwhile, Johnson has a new take on life with this new addition to the family. “It’s a wonderful gift”, he says. “I have been blessed”.

Garang is their 5th child.

Sunday, June 05, 2005

African Philanthropists

The best kept secret in the Australian society today is the emergence of a new generation of African philanthropists. They are ordinary men and women from all walks of life who show a great deal of love for humanity; performing charitable actions; donating money to those in need; including friends and relatives back home in Africa.

Quite clearly, the young migrants and refugees are showing the world that they are no pushover in the charity stakes, as they settle into their new life in Australia. The emphasis is on care and support for the less privileged members of society.

The Liberian refugees are sponsoring other Liberians to come to Australia, for a better life. And the good deeds of those from Sierra Leone, Somalia, Uganda, Eritrea, Ethiopia, Congo, Cameroon, Nigeria and South Africa are not far behind. With love of humanity deeply embedded in their hearts, they believe, they can build a better world. Their philanthropic activities are increasing by the day.

More importantly, the “lost boys” of the Sudan are now adapting to change in the land Down Under and are selflessly supporting other “lost boys and girls”; paying their airfares to Australia, as well as providing moral and financial support during the early days of arrival. These notable achievements are the works of the new and emerging African philanthropists of our time. It is the case of the poor helping the poor to a better life!

Nevertheless, there are limits to this type of philanthropy, as over-crowding becomes a major problem, due to the shortage of affordable housing stock. In fact, there are cases of homelessness and despair, of 17 people living in a three-bedroom home in the north-eastern suburbs of Adelaide in South Australia. But this is just the tip of the iceberg!

Yet, as far as the African philanthropists are concerned, the existence of homeless refugees hidden in jam-packed houses has added new momentum to the movement; encouraging more acts of charity and generosity in the emerging African communities in Australia.

Thus, in the city of light, my eyes have seen clear evidence of African humanism at work and unbelievable acts of generosity by African-Australians.

Having witnessed the ravages of war, famine, and deprivation in their homeland in recent years, the idealistic new generation of African philanthropists are creating alternative visions of the future, based on inherent desire to help those in need. They dream of a peaceful world; always seeing the big picture!

Quite frankly though, sharing your money or material possessions with people around you is a prospect that may chill the spine of many a capitalist. But the visionary new generation of African philanthropists do seem to have a perfect understanding of the human condition. For their world is a world of generosity, of give and take; of live and let live!

Their celebration of life and the human spirit have done a great deal to lighten the burden and ease the pain of transition.