Asia-Pacific

Multicultural youth optimistic but still face discrimination, census reveals

The report surveyed almost 2,000 people aged between 15 and 25, more than three-quarters of whom were born overseas from more than 90 different countries. Source: AAP

The first census of Australians from refugee and migrant backgrounds has revealed discrimination persists, but many young people feel optimistic.

Young Australians from refugee and migrant backgrounds still experience discrimination but are optimistic about their futures, according to a new nationwide study.

The Multicultural Youth Australia Census was conducted by researchers from the University of Melbourne’s Youth Research Centre in September and October 2017.

The survey of almost 2,000 people aged between 15 and 25 found Australia's young multicultural cohort have an overwhelming sense of optimism, with 87 per cent saying they're confident they can reach their goals.

RMIT university student William Ton, who has Vietnamese heritage, said he feels "positive about his future".

“I’m one of the lucky ones because there’s so much opportunity for me, so many options, so many pathways," he told SBS News.

Census co-producer Johanna Wyn, an education professor at the University of Melbourne, warned that this positive attitude can change over time.

“The longer that young people have lived here, the more … their optimism levels drop, they become a little more pessimistic," she said.

"Our aim is to help equip young people from refugee and migrant backgrounds to tackle issues they tell us they are facing every day..."
The census indicates a high level of confidence in achieving success, with 87 per cent saying they're optimistic about reaching their goals.
Nikita Thomas for Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network (Australia).

The census also revealed many young Australians from refugee and migrant backgrounds have experienced high levels of discrimination.

Just under half - 49 per cent - of respondents said they had personally experienced some form of discrimination in the 12 months prior to the census.

An even greater percentage said they had witnessed discrimination or someone being treated unfairly. 

The majority of both groups said the unjust treatment was due to race, followed by religion.

Professor Wyn said this result was disappointing, especially with a group “who are really making every effort to be involved and feel engaged with Australian culture”.

“But they are being discriminated against at a much higher rate than their non-multicultural peers”, she said.

Soo-Lin Quek, a Knowledge and advocacy manager at the Centre for Multicultural Youth, said it's an all too common experience.

"Whether it's a different skin colour, or whether it's attire that they wear that marks them out as being 'different', I think they're probably more visible targets of discrimination,” she said.

“I think there's a whole lot of work we have to do in helping and supporting local communities and schools to identify and understand how does racism manifest itself."

About 80 per cent of respondents indicated they either "agree" or "strongly agree" with having a sense of belonging to the greater society. Most also expressed a strong moral or political interest, having participated in activities such as signing a petition, buying ethically and attending protests over the past year.

Mr Ton said he has no problem showing off his patriotism.

"I feel like Australia’s an accepting country, a welcoming country,” he said.

“I don’t actually have any hesitance towards show my cultural identity as a Vietnamese person or an Australian person. I just feel accepted either way."

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