Home | Analysis | Hopeful and marginalised: migrant youths share their thoughts and feelings

Hopeful and marginalised: migrant youths share their thoughts and feelings

We hear about their extreme highs and lows, but we don’t often hear the everyday thoughts of migrant and refugee young people in Australia. Not every one is a Duckie Thot or the victim of an unprovoked attack. There are Muhammads, Poojas and Thuys. In fact, in 2016, Nguyen (along with Smith) was the most popular surname among NSW Year 12s.

Their feelings, however, are just as mixed as their names, as revealed by the first ever survey of them.

The Multicultural Youth Australia Census gleaned insights from nearly 2,000 people from migrant or refugee backgrounds, aged between 15 and 25, from 91 countries. Most of them (77 per cent) were born overseas.

While they reported discrimination as their second-biggest personal concern (after school), most felt they belonged here and were optimistic about their futures.

Researchers from the University of Melbourne’s Youth Research Centre, who conducted the Census, found that 49 per cent of respondents had experienced discrimination or unfair treatment in the past year, mostly on the basis of race. “We know that it’s happening in schools, which is really disappointing,” one of the lead researchers, University of Melbourne Professor Johanna Wyn said. “It’s also happening in public places like on public transport, in malls and in workplaces.”

Additionally, over a third said they felt unsafe walking alone at night. Women were four times as likely to state this than men.

Employment was another area where these young people described struggle, moreso than the general youth population. Half were unemployed or underemployed, reportedly mostly due to racial discrimination. By contrast, 31 per cent of youths generally are un- or underemployed.

Despite this, they remained overwhelmingly positive about their prospects. “Eighty-seven per cent of participants said they feel ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ about reaching their future goals, with the top two values and goals being ‘having a job they were passionate about’ (61 per cent) and ‘being active in working for a better society’ (45 per cent),” Wyn said.

“One of the things we think is happening is that because … many of the participants themselves are multicultural, for example, when you ask them, ‘what is your culture?’, they’ll say ‘I’m Croatian, Irish and Maori’, or ‘I’m English, Scottish, Tibetan and Malay’; they are very capable of navigating diversity. They are already embedded within culturally, linguistically and probably socioeconomically diverse contexts. This gives them a huge amount of capability and resilience,” Wyn explained.

“One of the really clear messages is that they do rely on education: it’s a very high priority [for them]. I think some of their optimism also comes from the real opportunity in Australia,” she added.

Three quarters of participants reported involvement in at least one civic activity, like signing a petition, expressing an opinion online about an issue they care about, buying ethically, attending protests or contacting politicians, in the last 12 months.

Further, 82 per cent of participants ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that they felt they belonged in Australia.

Describing the cohort as ‘overwhelmingly civic-minded’, Wyn hopes the census result will dismantle the stereotypes of migrant and refugee youths as ‘criminals’ or ‘extremists’, and instead allow people to recognise them as a “vanguard” group.

“It’s time to fund programs and create opportunities that capitalise on their optimism, civic capacities and desire to belong,” she said.

Policymakers and research funding bodies may do well to listen: those from migrant and refugee backgrounds will soon become the national majority. The latest national census showed just 51 per cent of Australians have two Australian-born parents.

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