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“We only meet in the lift” an examination of Australian multiculturalism through the resettlement experiences of African refugees

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posted on 02.03.2017, 23:08 by Fernandez Arias, Paula Andrea
In 1973 Australia repealed the 1901 Immigration Restriction Act and thus did away with over 70 years of racial selection. This, arguably drastic, change in law and policy begs the question of what kind of diversity strategy would be implemented. It also hints at the need for it to be examined. What kind of diversity framework does a nation defined by whiteness generate when whiteness is no longer its defining trait? This study sought to examine the resettlement experiences of African refugees in Melbourne as a way of exploring the underlying assumptions that make up Australian multiculturalism. Given Australia’s past and the heavily controlled immigration system that has characterised Australia’s involvement with the mass migration of people, the implementation of any diversity management strategy is likely to reflect the ideological underpinnings that make up national identity. The use of a Foucauldian theoretical framework aided by a qualitative approach allow for the inclusion of the personal and the systemic. The findings of this study reveal that Australian multiculturalism is inextricably linked to the economic imperative of diversity advantage. Examination of multicultural policy reveals a belief that Australian multiculturalism is good for the nation because it is good for the economy. This uniquely Australian take on multiculturalism has long lasting effects on refugee populations that resettle in Australia. It also has far reaching consequences for resettlement research in general as it has generated a knowledge base that privileges measurable outcomes at the expense of a rich understanding of resettlement as a process, with no definable end point, that is individual in its length and collective in its reach. This study found that the majority of the research about resettlement is large scale, survey based, and quantitative, focusing exclusively on measurable indicators such as housing, employment, and English proficiency. This approach has informed our current understanding of refugee resettlement as one where refugees are disadvantaged in almost every area when compared to Australian born peers. The present study is an attempt at generating a different understanding of resettlement that, while accounting for systemic failures, generates a space for African refugees and settlement workers – key 20actors in the resettlement dyad – to describe the resettlement journey into multicultural Australia in their own words. The study shows that alongside concerns for basic needs, refugees are also negatively impacted by less measurable needs such family, status, and the emotional impact of discrimination. Conversely, settlement workers are facing increasing levels of bureaucratisation and higher workloads that make it almost impossible for them to generate real relationships with their clients. Overall, this study found there are three pillars that shape resettlement: systemic constraints, expectations, and relationships. Interpersonal and familial relationships play a crucial role in the resettlement journey for refugees and workers alike. It also revealed the role that expectations play in the creation of worker/client relationships and service provision. Refugee expectations of what Australia is going to be like and worker expectations of appropriate service provision can negatively impact resettlement if they are not accounted for or if there is no space for negotiation. Resettlement is a relational journey that requires solid and reciprocal relationships that empower all those that go through it.

History

Principal supervisor

Catherine Flynn

Additional supervisor 1

Susan Kneebone

Additional supervisor 2

Afef Benessaieh

Year of Award

2016

Department, School or Centre

Social Work

Campus location

Australia

Degree Type

DOCTORATE

Faculty

Faculty of Medicine Nursing and Health Sciences