23 June 2013

Multiculturalism and Migration - My View

Australia is a country, similar to the US, that has been built on migrants. Since the 'White Man' arrived in 1788, and the numerous convict ships that followed, Australia has been home to many migrants from different regions, religions, cultures and traditions.  

In the early days Australia definitely had an Anglo Saxon feel as virtually all migrants were from the British Isles. Most were petty thieves who were put on boats heading to Sydney, for stealing things like a loaf of bread.  This migrant flow changed in the nineteenth century when gold was discovered 'in them thar hills' and before long a large number of Chinese prospectors arrived with dreams of 'making it rich' through what to some is the most precious of metals.

Fast forward to the twentieth century and Australia said g'day to a number of Greeks, Italians and other Europeans as the country expanded, and the domestic workforce was unable to cope accordingly.  The 1970's onward saw an influx of Vietnamese refugees and migrants from other troubled areas such as Bosnia and Afghanistan.

Nowadays, migrants are an enriched and integral part of Australian communities.  They have brought so much to this country in a number of different areas such as law, engineering, finance, small business, property development and so on.  Even our food intake has been influenced by migrants.  Just take a look at any supermarket to see the diverse range of food and products on display.

Despite this 'positive' picture there remains a small proportion of the community who are not so keen on migrants and refugees.  In particular refugees who are labelled as 'boat people'.  For those of you that may not know, boat people are refugees who risk their lives travelling on an overcrowded boat for the chance of a new and better life in Australia.  The issue has become so emotive for some that both the Government and Oppositions policy on Boat People are very similar.  It could be called a "we don't want them here" policy.  Interestingly, the vast majority of refugees that arrive this way, have valid reasons for coming.

Racial tensions can also cause issues.  The Muslim community were a target for abuse and attacks after the 9/11 Twin Towers terrorist incident.  Sikh's who wore turbans were also targeted incorrectly for being Muslims by a small number of narrow-minded yobs too.

The Cronulla riots in 2005 were testament to racial tension that sent shock waves through Australia.  Before I go on, I would point out that elements of racism do exist in every country. Here in Australia we do not see racist attacks too often so it appears a shock when they occur.  Racism is caused predominantly through migration.  It is also often sensationalised by the media which helps fuel people's prejudices.

For myself coming from England, I see myself as a migrant on par with other migrants in Australia.  Whether we are from my home country, Botswana, Nepal or Brazil we are all one migrant family.  The advantage that I have had is language.  Fortunately for me Aussies speak English.  So I haven't had to learn another language, thankfully.  Over the many years I have been here I have become well adapted to the Aussie way of life.

 I have also seen fellow migrants like my good friend Tanja thrive and prosper in Australia.  Tanja came to Australia via Germany after the conflicts in Bosnia in the early 1990's.  Today she is a qualified lawyer, speaks 6 languages and plays a part is raising awareness for organisations such as the UN Refugee Agency amongst others.  She is also one of a number of migrants who have made a positive mark on this country.  

I have other examples of people of migrant backgrounds who have made an outstanding contribution to Australia. In my example below I have deliberately chosen 3 female Muslims. The reasons for this is to try and break some stereotypes about Muslim women who wear hijab (headscarf).  To some, they wear the hijab because they are oppressed and forced to do so, and only do what they are told by their families.  To others they are pioneers in their communities, striving to help others as well as being model Australians.  I am sure if you continue reading you will be nicely surprised   I should say that the women mentioned below are all aged in their twenties.

Samah Hadid - Western Sydney born and bred of Lebanese background. To date Samah is the Australian Director of the Global Poverty Project an organisation whose goal is to end extreme global poverty within a decade.  Samah is also a human rights specialist and social justice advocate. In the past Samah has worked with Oxfam, Red Cross and the UN Human Rights Commissioner.

 Mariam Veiszadeh - Mariam came to Australia as a refugee.  She came by plane as the vast majority of refugees do.  She is a qualified lawyer, Human Rights campaigner and occasional piece writer for the tabloids. Mariam is also an Ambassador for Welcome to Australia an organisation that aims to cultivate a culture of embracement for refugees and migrants in Australia.

Yassmin Abdel-Magied - Yassmin arrived in Australia aged 2 from Sudan.  At the age of 16 Yassmin set up 'Youth Without Borders' an organisation that enables young people to work together and create a positive change for their community.  Yassmin is a member of the Australian Multicultural Council as well as being the winner of the Australian Financial Review's 100 women of influence list. Yassmin is a qualified engineer who works on gas and oil rigs.  

As you can see from the brief descriptions above these women are striving to make a difference to the world and communities they live in.  They are shining examples of why multiculturalism through migration can pay huge dividends for countries such as Australia.

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