Challenges faced by African migrants highlighted at Melbourne forum

Lawyer Nyadol Nyuon came to Australia when she was 18. Source: SBS News

A former refugee-turned lawyer has taken part in a forum in Melbourne about the challenges faced by African migrants in Australia.

Former refugee Nyadol Nyuon has achieved a lot since arriving in Australia in 2005 at the age of 18. But her path to success hasn't been without its hurdles. 

Ms Nyuon was born in an Ethiopian refugee camp after her family fled conflict in South Sudan during the late 1980s. She spent much of her youth in Kakuma camp in Kenya.

She was reunited with her mother in 2000 before they applied for resettlement together in Australia. It was her arrival here which allowed her to follow her dream of becoming a lawyer.

"I knew when I was in a refugee camp that I wanted to pursue further studies, I knew that I wanted to be a lawyer, and Australia has given me that," she told SBS News. 

Nyadol Nyuon
Lawyer Nyadol Nyuon came to Australia when she was 18.
SBS News

"I was really excited to be in Australia and I used to pray that I would be in Australia and make it one day, so I could do all these things that I knew I couldn’t do in a refugee camp.

After the 'honeymoon period'

One initial downside she had not expected was having to share a room with two of her sisters, she joked.

"That was a bit of a downer ... But besides that, I got to go to uni, I got to finish high school, I got to become a lawyer, I got to see my siblings grow up in a safe and secure environment."

I got to see my siblings grow up in a safe and secure environment.

But Ms Nyuon said real challenges emerged after the initial “honeymoon period".

"You begin to notice the other issues also, impacting the community. I think I’m much more conscious of the fact that I am black, being in Australia, maybe than I was in the refugee camps, because everyone else was black - and the consequences of that," she said. 

"So having people tell you when you’re walking down the street, call you names, tell you to 'go back where you came from', unprovoked ... It came be a bit concerning when you find that your mere presence for some people, is completely unwelcome."

Community challenges 

Ms Nyuon took part in a forum on Wednesday organised by the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne. The event, held at the Deakin Edge theatre in Federation Square, looked at the challenges faced by the African community amid recent reports of crimes linked to a minority of youth of South Sudanese heritage.

"Are Melburnians so tyrannised that they fear to go out to dinner, as Federal Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton alleged?" the event details on the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne's website read. "Are Sudanese youth out of control, or is an entire community being unfairly stigmatised and stereotyped?"

Ms Nyuonsaid the behaviour of those involved in the reported crime was inexcusable.

"We have to understand, and appreciate, that if you’ve been a victim of crime, it’s a very horrific thing," she said. 

"As a person who’s been displaced from my own home, I don’t want anyone experiencing that terror of not feeling safe in their own bed and in their own home. I think it would be a very unfair thing, to try and dismiss people’s fears, and concerns."

But, she said for some young refugees, it can be difficult to find a place in a new land.

"I think it’s a really complicated issue, I think you’ve got issues within the home, you’ve got young people feeling out of place in their own home; not necessarily identifying as South Sudanese or as the kind of South Sudanese that their parents identify as," she said. 

"You’ve got young people who are dealing with issues of race, and discrimination in the public, people who feel squeezed out of both identities, struggling with issues of employment."

Struggles with settlement

Anglican Chaplain Jackson Soma, who also spoke at the Melbourne forum, told SBS News he encountered similar issues after arriving in Australia as a refugee in 2003.

"Settlement, of course, which is very broad and huge ... the government thinks, if someone is here for five years that person is settled," Mr Soma said.

"But indeed, no, people still struggle with settling even [after] ten years and so it’s one of the big areas where people struggle. My concern is that some might really be hopeless, thinking they don’t have any future in this country."

People still struggle with settling even [after] ten years.

Both Mr Soma and Ms Nyuon are concerned the narrative around youth offending is making the problem worse. Ms Nyoon said it could lead to people retaliating against minority groups they perceive as being linked to such behaviour.

"It can really put a lot more people in danger ... If we’re not careful about how we talk about these things, we create room for things like that," she said.  

Ms Nyuon agreed that efforts by police were helpful, but it was positive action by community groups that was having the most impact.

"There have been ongoing night patrols to try and get young people that have drug and alcohol issues off the streets ... the churches have [also] been significantly involved," she said. Ms Nyuon pointed to street outreach support group Daughters of Jerusalem which SBS News profiled last year. 

Ms Nyuon said she believed community collaborations will pay off, and the more often young people see success in their local area, the more likely they are to strive for it themselves.

"The majority of South Sudanese people are doing their best and taking the full opportunity that they get in Australia, to better their lives," Ms Nyuon said. 

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