African Muslim Refugees and Local Government
Over the last two decades the number of refugees from Africa resident in Australia has risen substantially: between June 1997 and June 2007, 22,445 refugees from Sudan were settled under the humanitarian program; 2,714 from Ethiopia; 2,477 from Sierra Leone; 2,373 from Somalia and 3,796 from Central and West Africa (ABS, 2008). Refugees from Africa face major difficulties settling in Australia. Many arrive traumatised having experienced the loss of family members, years of war and attendant brutality and then extremely harsh living conditions in refugee camps. In addition, many have minimal formal education and literacy and poor or no English language skills (Spinks 2009).
A major problem is unemployment (Australian Parliament 2008; Colic-Peisker and Tilbury 2007; Reiner 2010). A substantial study by the Australian Human Rights Commission found that besides a lack of skills, discrimination was perceived to be a central factor preventing employment and ‘[t]hese barriers were perceived to be further compounded for Muslim African Australians, especially women who wear the hijab’ (Australian Human Rights Commission 2010: 12). Another concern is when an African woman finds employment but her husband remains unemployed; the shifting of roles can lead to serious family tension. Research suggests it is particularly acute in African Muslim households (Reiner 2010)