Report documents plight of migrant youth


By Rodney Cheuk and Tamara Desiatov

PERTH — Young migrants from non-English speaking backgrounds experience an institutionalised racism second only to Aboriginal youth. A report released here confirms that migrant youth experience higher levels of unemployment, fewer training opportunities, narrower educational options and less access to mainstream programs and services than their peers from English-speaking backgrounds.

While official youth (15 to 25 years) unemployment already stands over 30% in WA, the rate of unemployment facing young people from a non-English speaking background (NESB) is even worse.

In a survey conducted by Simon Ki, youth policy officer for the Ethnic Communities Council of WA (ECCWA), it was found that 90% of newly arrived NESB youth have experienced unemployment since arriving two to five years ago, 77% were unemployed at the time of the survey (August 1993), and 38% had never had a job. Of the NESB youth surveyed, nearly 70% had fathers who were unemployed, and over 80% had mothers who were also out of work.

According to 1991 census figures, nearly 21% of all young people in Australia between the ages of 12 and 25 were born overseas; 49% of youth have at least one parent of overseas origin. Forty-three per cent of young migrants come from a non-English speaking background.

Unemployment of NESB youth is compounded by other problems such as language difficulties, unrecognised overseas work experience and devalued qualifications and skills.

Ki's report identifies the crucial factor for equality of opportunity as language. He found that restricted access to language training courses, and their inadequacy and inappropriateness, contribute enormously to the marginalisation of young NESB people.

A serious shortcoming of existing English as a second language courses is that they are run like factories without quality control. Rigid course restrictions mean students spend a fixed time in language courses and are then discharged without any regard for whether they feel at home with the English language or Australian society .

The new National Language Policy, operational since January 1993, places even more restrictions on access to English language training. It further reduces the hours available for individuals and cuts the time allowed for completion of courses.

Inappropriate structures and curricula also ensure that NESB youth do not enjoy full equality in primary and secondary school either. Cultural barriers reduce access to extracurricular activities. Ki found that racism in schools made NESB youth "hesitant and vulnerable, and therefore unwilling to participate" in such activities.

In a 1991 report of 13 workshops with NESB youth in schools, the ECCWA found that 82% of participants felt they had been rejected, isolated or discriminated against by Australian-born fellow students; 65% felt they had been discriminated against by teaching staff.

Similar barriers prevent NESB youth from accessing community services. The lack of bilingual community workers and under-resourcing of ethnic media networks and services increase the gap between "multicultural" rhetoric and racist reality. Most information on services, such as health services, is not disseminated through community networks in languages the majority of NESB youth can understand.

The ECCWA report concludes that, with limited housing options available, young NESB people often face "traditional" and generational conflicts with their parents. The leisure time activities of NESB youth, particularly young women, are mostly associated with the family or home environment.

Many NESB youth suffer depression, loneliness and anxiety. The lack of community support exacerbates this situation.

These problems of NESB youth are not new. In 1989 a working party was established by the federal Ministerial Advisory Committee on Youth Affairs to work out recommendations for possible action to address the needs of NESB youth. Four years later it is unclear what action has been undertaken.

Under-resourcing of government authorities particularly affects the delivery of services to doubly marginalised groups, such as NESB youth, and makes a mockery of the federal government's so-called "access and equity" strategies. Improving the plight of NESB youth requires a massive shift away from the current austerity and cutbacks to socially necessary services.

Cuts in education funding and privatisation and contracting out of school services will reduce already inadequate social services. Closures of smaller, "inefficient" schools increases class sizes in other schools.

Fee increases under the Higher Education Contribution Scheme and the removal of Austudy for youth under 17 will increase the number of those who cannot afford an education. Aboriginal and NESB youth will be among the hardest hit since they are already marginalised in these institutions.

To quote the ECCWA report, "For many NESB youth, coping with daily life is akin to walking the tightrope". With state and federal governments increasingly guided by purely "economic efficiency" considerations, the tightrope is set to become even more precarious.

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