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An investigation of the challenges facing African refugee communities in the Australian workforce: Findings from a qualitative study of Sudanese and Liberian refugees in South Australia

Paul Gal Atem, PhD Candidate School of Natural and Built Environments University of South Australia

Abstract It appears that the culturally and linguistically diverse population within Australian society is experiencing difficulties in access to the workforce, especially the growing African community. This paper draws on data from a study designed to give a better understanding of the perceived barriers influencing Sudanese and Liberian refugees‟ ability to access employment and associated services in South Australia. This research takes a qualitative approach as a useful approach in understanding the problem of employment among Africans. The research has identified low socioeconomic status, educational standard, language issues, lack of recognition of qualifications and social capital as primary influencing factors effecting African capacity to enter the Australian workforce. The study participants consisted of eight Sudanese and Liberian refugees and seven advocacy community organization workers engaged in helping African refugees to find work. The participants were interviewed using semi-structured questions. Subjects arrived in Adelaide South Australia, most in the last ten years. These refugees are generally disadvantaged and often their life chances and choices are considerably restrained by current Australian workplace culture and expectations. This study attempts to add their voices to the debate about employment in Australia.

Keywords: Sudanese and Liberian refugees, Africans, employment, workforce, integration, South Australia

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Introduction Several decades of civil and political conflicts in some of the African countries have resulted in an increase in Sub-Sahara African migration to Australia. Migrants have arrived from Democratic Republic of Congo, Sudan, Eritrea, Ethiopia and Somalia, and West African nations, included Liberia and Sierra Leone (Regan and Hamilton, 2002). Recent migration intake has mainly focused on black Africans and the majority of the intake has come from Sudan, a country which has experienced a vicious and devastating civil war that lasted for over 21 years forcing a significant number of Sudanese to take refuge in Australia (Briant and Kennedy, 2004). This paper aims to report and discuss qualitative findings of Sudanese and Liberian refugees in South Australia in relation to their access to employment. The paper provides brief and substantive background information about African refugees in Australia which gives the reader some historical insights about the emerging African community in Australia. The paper is mainly concerned with the Sudanese and Liberian refugees‟ access to employment in the state of South Australia as employment plays a fundamental role in these groups‟ settlement and integration into the wider Australian society. This paper involves a review of relevant literature on recent empirical studies of the refugees‟ employment and the factors affecting their employment and interviews with African migrants living in Adelaide, South Australia

Background The minimal literature on African experiences in Australia indicates that there is a lack of understanding of local work culture and employment discrimination. However, this paper acknowledges the progression of the literature through a period of roughly three to five years because the African community has increasingly expanded in recent years and their settlement problems now have attracted publication to cover more diverse fields of study, all of which address the challenges that face African refugees. Udo- Ekpo (1999:232-233) asserts issues in relation to unemployment and underemployment among the African migrants in Australia which he argued has led to personal and integration issues. It is important to consider other...
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