Paige Taylor, in The Australian, May 2015, where the title reads “The Real Cost of Welcoming Refugees”
Yesterday Mangar Makur-Chuot sat in a Perth doctor’s surgery waiting for jabs ahead of his trip to the Rio Olympics. It’s a turn of events the dual-citizen sprinter could not have imagined during his childhood in a refugee camp in Kenya. Come August, he will compete in Rio in the 200m for his father’s country, South Sudan, with special permission to wear the badge of the West Australian Athletics Association. Makur-Chuot experienced a change of fortune in 2005 when Australia selected him, his five siblings and his mother to be part of our annual humanitarian quota of refugees.
This year Australia will select 13,750 such refugees (the intake will rise to 18,750 by 2018-19), some from camps across Africa. From the vast numbers of Syrians and Iraqis forced to flee their war-torn homelands, there will be a one-off additional intake of 12,000 people, costed at more than $700 million.
This week the cost of welcoming such refugees here and resettling them was thrust into public debate when the Greens called for our humanitarian quota to be raised to 50,000. The issue then exploded in the middle of the election campaign when Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that “large percentages of them (refugees) have no English skills at all” and would “languish” in unemployment and on Medicare. Dutton added that, under the Greens’ policy, such people “would be taking Australian jobs”.
Cue outrage far and wide. Others, such as Malcolm Turnbull, emphasised Dutton was telling the truth and that the government was happy to meet the costs of resettling its intake. Labor, meanwhile, wants to increase the annual humanitarian intake to 37,000. Dutton says Labor’s and the Greens’ policies would be hugely expensive. The government estimates that, across four years, the Greens’ policy would cost $7 billion and Labor’s proposal about $2.3bn.
This contrasts with the costs involved in settling asylum-seekers who landed in Christmas Island during the sustained wave of boat arrivals under Labor. Many of those granted protection were professionals who required less government assistance.
A 2011 report for the commonwealth Department of Immigration and Citizenship found humanitarian entrants helped meet labour shortages but their contributions took time. The Social and Economic Contributions of First and Second Generation Humanitarian Entrants report found that, among those interviewed as new arrivals in 1994-96, 84 per cent of the refugees were unemployed. Three years later, 33 per cent still did not have jobs.
“This is a function of them on average having less English language ability, less educational experience, different forms of family support, less pre-migration preparation, poorer physical and mental health and greater difficulty in having their qualifications and experience recognised,” the report says. In a 2010 survey of relatively new migrants to Australia, including 8500 refugees, half the respondents said they spoke English not well or not at all. The Australian Survey Research found 24.1 per cent were in paid work.
Makur-Chuot and his family landed in Perth at the beginning of a phenomenal resources boom, as Western Australia underwent a decade-long transformation. He says they were embraced by locals as well as the bureaucracy; social workers, interpreters, case managers and English teachers all helped them build a new life. Immigration officials and their contractors helped Makur-Chuot and his family with housing and day-to-day support, such as going to the bank or Centrelink; later, church volunteers stepped in to provide help.
“People from the church still come to Mum’s house to fix things if one of us is not around. They are very good people,” Makur-Chuot says. He is finishing a sound engineering degree and donates his time as an ambassador for an indigenous sports initiative sponsored by the state government.
His manager, Lindsay Bunn, says he is mobbed by Aboriginal kids on trips to remote towns and communities. “I actually think the kids can sense that he is from somewhere like where they are from, a regional area where kids grow up a bit tough.”
Makur-Chuot believes his family’s story is common among refugees in Australia: the children in the family adapted quickly to their new country while their mother, widowed when his father was killed fighting for South Sudan in 1994, continues to struggle. The demands of rearing six children and a seventh child born in Australia are a full-time job for Makur-Chuot’s mother.
“Mum still goes to English classes every Wednesday; sometimes her conversations can flow for a few words but then it will be a stop,” he says. “My mum is always troubled by what is going on back home with her own parents and other relatives.nThe kids in refugee families don’t have those pressures, we don’t look back so much.”
Makur-Chuot’s siblings are pursuing vocations — his sister Sarah is a model who is studying business, while another sister, Susan, is a development officer at the West Australian Football Commission. His brother Chep is an engineer working for the government in South Sudan.
The federal government is not carrying the cost of humanitarian resettlement on its own. The West Australian Department of Sport and Recreation, for instance, has sunk $405,000 into a program at the Edmund Rice Centre in Perth’s northern suburbs. Refugee boys and girls flock there after school on Wednesdays and Fridays to play Australian football with African-born youth workers and kids from other backgrounds. The refugee children’s parents come to watch and often end up as helpers.
“They do vital work in getting people new to Western Australia engaged in our community through sport,” says Ron Alexander, director general of the department. “Edmund Rice is special in that it brings the volunteers, families, kids and our existing sports together, ultimately to enjoy and contribute to our way of life.”
One of the most enthusiastic participants is also the newest. Fatoumata Toure, 6, came to Australia as a refugee with her big family from Ivory Coast in 2010. She was just one year old then, and her love for footy delights her mother, Aramatu Sangari. Fatoumata and her little brother, nicknamed Meme, are regulars at training sessions. “My kids are happy and that makes me happy,” Sangari says.
According to Makur-Chuot, who grew up in the same area as the kids who go to the Edmund Rice Centre, many refugee parents accept the sadness of being far from home and family because they did not come to Australia for themselves, they came for the kids.
In January, Syrian butcher Bashar Kujah expressed the same sentiment. It was two months after he, his wife and their children became the first family selected in the special intake of 12,000 Syrians to which the federal government agreed in response to the crisis in Syria and Iraq. “We definitely felt we had to leave our city, for the safety of our family,” Kujah said in an interview timed for Australia Day. It was obvious to reporters that Kujah’s English was poor — he responded to written questions through an interpreter.
“The sad thing we had to face was mainly leaving our relatives, friends and loved ones behind. However, we had to remind ourselves every day that this is the only way we can secure a safer life for our children and to get them a better chance of a future. We have hope that some day we will see our relatives again.”
Now it is six months since immigration officials and an interpreter greeted the Kujahs at Perth International Airport and took them to a hotel. They have moved into subsidised housing; the couple’s fourth child was born safely and the two oldest children are in an intensive school program for refugee kids that will ease them into mainstream school in coming weeks. And both parents are learning English.
Kujah wants to work in his trade as a butcher or cook, and already billionaire Andrew “Twiggy” Forrest has offered him a job when he completes his English course. Yesterday The Australian confirmed the job offer still stands, and Kujah expects to start work at Forrest’s Harvey Beef abattoir in southwestern Western Australia within three months. The family, like every other refugee accepted in the humanitarian program, is assigned a social worker, a case manager, interpreters and other help to facilitate their path in an unfamiliar land.
The agency contracted by the federal government to help the Kujahs and other refugees, the Metropolitan Migrant Resource Centre, says the Syrian crisis has prompted an extraordinary jump in offers from the public to help share the costs of welcoming refugees. Client services manager Paul Rafferty says his organisation usually struggled for volunteers “but there has been an outpouring — the number of people volunteering for us has trebled overnight, which has never happened before”.
Rafferty attributes the devastating beach photograph of drowned three-year-old refugee boy Alan Kurdi, beamed around the world, as prompting much public concern. “For the first time in a long time people have seen something that resonates with them,” Rafferty says. “We have received about 40 tubs of winter clothing and children’s games which we’ve been able to distribute to refugee families.”
Rafferty acknowledges many refugee families need a lot of help across a long period, but he says the families that his organisation has begun to settle as part of the special intake of 12,000 Syrians and Iraqis are a little different from needier refugees, who have sometimes experienced generations of trauma. “The thing about the Syrians and the Iraqis coming through is that they are well educated, they are very entrepreneurial and they are going to have a really good settlement experience here,” Rafferty says.
All refugees in Australia are provided 510 hours of English lessons, which takes about nine months. Before that time, refugees with poor English find it difficult to get work.
Sri Lankan Gnanaraja “Raj” Jesuraja was granted a protection visa — which was deducted from Australia’s humanitarian quota — within a year of arriving at Christmas Island in an asylum boat in 2009. He completed English classes in detention and after his release, but his English was almost nonexistent to start with and he had to work hard to improve it.
He was living on Centrelink payments for a year before he found a job at a car yard in Perth. He now works as a cleaner at Campsie Public School in Sydney. His Indonesian wife, whom he met while waiting and saving up to catch an asylum boat to Australia, later joined him with their daughter. “We have had two more children and we are very. very happy,” he says.
Latika Bourke Sydney Morning Herald May 18, 2016: “Peter Dutton says ‘illiterate and innumerate’ refugees would take Australian jobs”
“Illiterate and innumerate” refugees would take Australian jobs or “languish” on the dole and use free health services provided by Medicare, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has said, in remarks Labor has condemned as “deeply offensive”. Mr Dutton was responding to criticisms by conservative Sky News presenter Paul Murray when he made the comments about a Greens idea to boost the refugee intake to 50,000.
“They won’t be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English,” Mr Dutton said. “These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that.
“For many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it so there would be huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that, that’s the scenario.”
Mr Dutton has ramped up his media appearances in the opening weeks of the election campaign to exploit internal Labor divisions on asylum seeker policy.
Labor has hit back over the remarks, describing them as xenophobic and offensive, and calling for Mr Dutton to apologise. “These are deeply offensive comments and Mr Dutton should immediately apologise for these half-baked remarks,” a Labor spokesman said.
“This country has a proud tradition of multiculturalism and for Mr Dutton to make such narrow-minded and xenophobic remarks exposes the right-wing brigade behind Malcolm Turnbull.
“One of the first acts of this government was to slash Australia’s humanitarian intake to 13, 750.”
Opposition Leader Bill Shorten has vowed the Labor Party will stand firm on the issue but has struggled to contain an outbreak of nearly two-dozen MPs and candidates who want the opposition to take a different line.
The issue dominated Labor’s first few days of campaigning after it was revealed the candidate in the seat of Melbourne, Sophie Ismail, flagged concerns about turning back asylum seeker boats and the offshore detention centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru.
Mr Dutton’s characterisation of asylum seekers is at odds with the Refugee Council, which says: “Research has shown that refugees, once they have the opportunity to establish themselves, make important economic, civil and social contributions to Australian society. Australia’s refugees and humanitarian entrants have found success in every field of endeavour, including the arts, sports, media, science, research, business and civic and community life.”
The council acknowledges the difficulties refugees from non-English speaking countries have in learning a new language but says: “Refugee and humanitarian entrants are often keen to make up for lost time and take up the many and diverse opportunities provided by Australia’s education and training systems. Refugee young people in particular can be highly motivated and ambitious in their educational and career goals.”