The according to the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), the participation rate in the labour force for South Sudanese is 50.7% as compared to 65% among the Australian population while the unemployment rate among South Sudanese is 28.6% compared to 5.6% among the Australian population. The participation and unemployment rates among the South Sudanese in Australia are much lower and much higher respectively than the Australian average. In Sydney, the low participation rate in the work force and the high unemployment rate can be explained in a number of ways. Many South Sudanese with qualifications and skills gained prior to coming to Australia have not been able to translate these qualifications and skills into meaningful employment because the Australian employment market doesn’t recognize them. Even after getting some Australian qualifications in Australia through TAFE and university, it is still difficult for many South South Sudanese to gain employment.
Another related issue to unemployment is under employment. It is very common in Sydney for South Sudanese people to take jobs below their qualification and skills. Many South Sudanese who obtain Australian university degrees are forced to take factory jobs because they can’t find a job at the level of their qualification. The reason given by employers for not employing South Sudanese university graduates is that they don’t have Australian work experience. There is some sense in the South Sudanese community that at some level they can’t get jobs because of racism.
The Australian workplace is different from what South Sudanese might have experienced of the workplace prior to coming to Australia. For example, the use of things like the computer or how to answer phone calls are skills taken for granted in Australia. The Australian workplace culture is not familiar to South Sudanese. This also means that South Sudanese don’t quite understand how to make themselves attractive in terms of selling themselves and their skills. For example, writing up curriculum vitae (CV), selection criteria, and cover letter showcasing their skills, knowledge and work experience. The concept of meeting up a potential employer to follow up on how a job application is progressing is foreign for South Sudanese.
Some possible solutions:
- Providing job ready training tailored to meeting the needs of South Sudanese community members. Such training should impart basic skills such as computer skills relevant to most workplaces in Australia, the use of the phone and how to answer phone calls, and how people relate at the workplace.
- Such training as in (a) above needs to cover writing skills such as CV, selection criteria, and cover letter writing and how to recruit referees.
- Linking the training as outlined in (a) and (b) above to placement places at appropriate government departments that match the skills and the knowledge those trained have.
- Private businesses can also be recruited in the program to offer placement places especially in the corporate sector.
- South Sudanese TAFE and university students should be encouraged to take up volunteer work in the field relevant to their studies over the length of their study.
- South Sudanese with work skills and work experiences gained before coming to Australia need to be placed in a workplace relevant to their knowledge and skills to skill them up and make them familiar with the Australian workplace. This will increase their employability.
- A mentoring program for South Sudanese to assist guide them and help them gain self-confidence and skills in navigating the job market in Australia will very beneficial.
- Self-employment can be another alternative to unemployment in the South Sudanese community. Scholarships need to be available for South Sudanese in Sydney to do Social enterprise training to enable them start their own businesses and become self-employed.
Finding a suitable and affordable accommodation is critical for the wellbeing of South Sudanese families in Sydney. With a median income below $ 300 a week, South Sudanese families struggle to find affordable housing. South Sudanese families are larger than the Australian average family. It is common to find families with 4 or 5 children in the South Sudanese community. Most homes in Australia are made to accommodate family sizes that are a lot small – a husband and wife and two and half children!
Due to the large number of children in South Sudanese families compared to the Australian average, real estate agents seem to avoid offering them accommodation. Real estate agents also prefer to offer accommodation to people who can pay a little bit more and who are financially more likely to pay rent on time and on regular basis.
It is common to hear stories of South Sudanese families in Sydney losing their tenancy about 6 months into their tenancy. The most common reason real estate agents give for termination of tenancy is that the landlord is selling. The other reason real estate agents commonly state for termination of tenancy is unpaid arrears. Some members of the South Sudanese community feel that real estate agents unfairly target them.
When a South Sudanese family is evicted it takes them at least a couple of months before they find accommodation. In the meantime they stay with relatives or friends as in the same house or split up and live in different houses with different people. The effect is that houses are over crowded. Over crowding eventually lead to conflict between families as the host family or families feel the pressure put on their family resources and utility bills. This also has the potential of speeding up tear and wears on the property.
Another issue regarding accommodation identified by South Sudanese community members in Sydney is difficulty in accessing public and social housing. For example, to get accommodation through the Department of Housing it takes years before getting on top of the list and even then there is usually no guarantee that one would get offered a house.
With a median income of below $ 300 a week, property ownership is out of the question for many South Sudanese in Sydney!
- The Department of Housing needs to employ a worker who can work with disadvantaged communities such South Sudanese community to bridge the gap between such communities and real estate agents to build trust between them. This may include Department of Housing making guarantees that tenants they advocate for will pay rent on time. This is not about Department of Housing making payments if the tent doesn’t pay rent on time. Rather it is to ensure that the tent is assisted with budgeting to ensure that they pay rent on time.
- Department of Housing employee as described in (a) above, provides tenancy education to ensure that South Sudanese understand how the tenancy system works in NSW and to ensure that they know that their rights and obligations are.
- Department of Housing needs to increase housing stock to ensure that waiting time for housing is reduced significantly.
- South Sudanese in NSW assisted through a social housing planning to acquire properties that are affordable and suitable.
Drug and Alcohol use:
Drug and alcohol misuse seems to be on the rise in the South Sudanese community. The effect is that family resources are spent on drug and alcohol. Family and domestic violence seems to be directly or indirectly related to drug and alcohol use. Binge drinking seems to be the most common method of alcohol consumption. It is not clear what type of drugs is used and when they actually get used. There is also a marked rise in drug and alcohol use among young South Sudanese people in Sydney.
In Parramatta, Parramatta Park has become a space where South Sudanese of different ages congregate and drink and possibly use drugs. Adult South Sudanese who meet at Parramatta Park seem to go there because they are unemployed and bored staying home. Some of them do night shifts and go to the park in their spare time to meet and hang out with friends. Many South Sudanese people point out that leisure activities Australians do are either too expensive for them or they are culturally inappropriate. It was stated, for example, that clubs and pubs don’t provide culturally appropriate spaces for leisure activities for South Sudanese.
For South Sudanese young people who hang out in the parks of Western Sydney, it seems that issues that drive them to drinking and drug use are more complex and deeply grounded in family dynamics, negative adjustment experiences, and identity crisis. It seems that there is a misunderstanding among South Sudanese young people about parks and their use. The police reported in a community meeting that South Sudanese young people were using Parramatta Park for drug and alcohol use, having sex, and harassing the public including pick pocketing. They also leave behind trash in the park including used condoms, cigarette butts and alcohol bottles and cans.
Some possible solution:
- Improving access to community halls and meeting rooms especially those owned and managed by councils, schools, and community centres. This will ensure that South Sudanese community members participate in positive, culturally appropriate activities that would make drug and alcohol use as a pass time activity in parks unattractive.
- Addressing unemployment and underemployment as suggested in issues brief No. 1 above will ensure that people who go to the park because they have nothing to do stop going to the park.
- Ensuring the outreach program put in place by service providers at Parramatta Parks led by the Police, Parramatta City council, and many other service providers is an ongoing process of engagement with South Sudanese young people and adults who use the park.
- To ensure that the outreach program mentioned in (c) above is an ongoing activity, the state government needs to provide some small funding to ensure that activities such as the weekly barbeque organized and monthly meeting held by CSSOMA themselves and service providers involved in the outreach program are funded. To manage this outreach program sustainable a paid worker, COMMUNITY LEADER(S) and two EXECUTIVE OFFICERS, Chairperson, Secretary General and Treasurer might be need to improve coordination’s and information disseminations.
- South Sudanese young people who visit Parramatta Park need specialized outreach counseling, Legal Aids, Pro – Bono Lawyers and case work services to enable them deal with complex issues that drive them to drug and alcohol use at the park.
Crisis in South Sudan:
The Current crisis in South Sudan erupted in December 2013 and quickly has turned into a blown out civil war. Between December 2013 and April 2014 over ten thousand people died and about a million people displaced. In addition to the high rate of deaths and displacement of people, the war also resulted in the destruction of property and infrastructure. Oil export, the only single major source of revenue for the government of South Sudan, has been disrupted as workers evacuated and oil infrastructure damaged. Communication with people on the ground who work in the government of South Sudan suggest that the government of South Sudan has not been paying salaries and wages for a couple of months now.
The South Sudanese community in Sydney has been affected by this war in many ways. At lease one South Sudanese who lived in Sydney was caught up in the war and got killed. There are many more South Sudanese Australians who are in South Sudan and might have been caught up where the war has intensified. South Sudanese Australians have lost property and investment in South Sudan as a direct result of this war. In addition to property and investment, South Sudanese Australia lost many friends, relatives, and family members.
Many South Sudanese in Sydney have been helping to evacuate family members and relatives from the immediate danger of the war by paying for their evacuation to safety. However, once family members and relatives evacuate immediate danger, financial support by South Sudanese Australians doesn’t end there. Many South Sudanese Australians in Sydney have taken on financial support of families that a few months ago they didn’t have to worry about.
The current civil war in South Sudan has polarized the South Sudanese community in Sydney as emotions run high. This has a negative impact on community cohesion in the South Sudanese community in Sydney that was already suffering fragmentation and disunity. This further reduces the capacity of South Sudanese community to work together and advocate effectively on its own behalf in NSW. As a result important issues such as unemployment, the high rates of school drop out among South Sudanese young people in Sydney, child protection issues, housing and accommodation are left unaddressed.
Some possible solutions:
- More pressure needs to be put on the warring parties in South Sudan to stop the war by countries like Australia through the UN Security Council chaired currently by Australia.
- Supporting the ongoing South Sudanese peace process in Addis Ababa and putting more pressure on the negotiating parties to negotiate in good faith and address all the outstanding issues without delay to bring the conflict to a final political settlement.
- International bodies such as the UN. Human Rights Watch, Oxfam, and Amnesty International to investigate any human rights violations committed by the warring parties and bring responsible parties and individuals to justice.
- Australia provides a substantial financial assistance to enable humanitarian organizations through the UN to provide humanitarian assistance urgently needed in South Sudan.
- NSW government through CRC’s Social Inclusion community grants provide funding to assist South Sudanese community address community fragmentation and disunity among South Sudanese in Sydney that seems to disempowered the community.
- The tension in the South Sudanese community due to the current crisis in South Sudan can be resolved through dialogue, peace building and conflict resolution strategies. The NSW government should fund the CSSOMA and CSSOMA contracts, Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies based at The University of Sydney to work with South Sudanese community to initiate dialogue among South Sudanese in Sydney and to work towards peace building in the South Sudanese community.