'We are at the bottom of the ladder': Migrant groups call for more tailored, longer-running support

New arrivals to Australia need more specialist support services that focus on early intervention and last for longer after they've settled in the country, community groups say.

Community groups have made submissions to a federal parliamentary inquiry into migrant settlement outcomes calling for additional support for new arrivals.

Many say that while current programs are good, improvement is needed, especially in relation to understanding individual needs.

CEO of the African-Australian Multicultural Employment and Youth Services (AAMEYS), Dr Berhan Ahmed, says all Australians need to consider the circumstances under which some people decide to move to a new country.

He says this can include violent and war-torn situations, where things such as education are infrequent or even non-existent.

“Someone arrives in this country at the age of 13 or 14, we put them in Grade 8 or Grade 7 - imagine, someone who's never been to Grade 1, sitting in Grade 7, what would you expect?” Dr Ahmed said.

Echoing this is the Forum of Australian Services for Survivors of Torture and Trauma, or FASSTT, which works with people fleeing dangerous or risky situations in their home countries.

National coordinator Paula Peterson, and CEO of FASSTT's Queensland arm, Tracy Worrall, say education is particularly important in keeping young people

Discrimination and isolation from non-migrant peers can see many youths withdraw, and gravitate towards certain groups.

“When a group feels alienated they will naturally be drawn to peers where they feel comfortable and accepted and safe, and not judged,” they said.

And if they don’t “feel part of the community that they've joined then this is always going to be a risk."

But they’re quick to point out that this is not a problem unique to migrant communities.

“I think you could look at any group of young people in a whole range of different environments in Australia and see similar issues,” such as social disadvantage, they said.

The inquiry has a focus on youth gang activity, something Dr Ahmed says has been unfairly associated with the African community.

“We are at the bottom of the ladder and we are judged wrongly,” he said.

Dr Ahmed believes African migrants are not “crime-infested” people, but instead are being demonised by a few repeat offenders.

“We are just labelled for any crime that happens as if we are the only people that are bringing crime (here),” he said.

Other issues raised include the level of English language classes, intergenerational trauma and a lack of cultural sensitivity.

Jesuit Social Services CEO, Julie Edwards, says migration must not be treated as a one-off event, but as a continuous journey that needs long-term support.

“We've seen so many people make a contribution to this country, but we need to invest in them,” she said, which means extending services beyond five and maybe even 10 years.

All groups say they would like to see real change made by the inquiry.

FASSTT's Paula Peterson has warned against services and organisations using a one-size-fits-all approach for migrant communities.

She says there is no “magical formula which you can apply to a prospective migrant or refugee coming to Australia and be able to ascertain their likelihood of settling well.”

Ms Peterson says a person feeling like they belong to a community is the most important thing, and “I think there are lots of things we can do to enhance that."

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