Sunday, January 13, 2019

South Sudanese Community in Australia and their Social Problems

 Melbourne, Australia
"Raising a family in a new culture ... is a challenge for South Sudanese and many African migrant families with very little knowledge of western ways of parenting ... Children and teenagers tend to adopt new cultures quickly, but their parents still hold on to their own cultures and parenting styles based on where they grow up. As children and teenagers find ways to adapt or integrate into a new culture, they are more likely to struggle with identity issues, lack of mentoring, which robs them of the guide  into the right paths. This is the case with many young people and their families from the South Sudanese community in Australia. "

1    Introduction

William Abur.
Picture: Courtesy of the author
MANY PEOPLE, from the South Sudanese community in Australia, arrived as refugees for resettlement in Australia after living for some years in refugee camps. Resettlement in a new country is a dream for many refugees worldwide, including people from South Sudan, who left their country because of war. 

Leaving a country during a war can be traumatic since people leave under very challenging circumstances and travel to neighboring countries with cultural experiences different from their own experiences and knowledge. In addition, refugees are often not able to return to their home countries because the causes of their departure [wars, insecurity, hunger] continue to apply in their country of origin. 

It is therefore important to highlight the global situation and the crisis of refugees seeking asylum due to constant forcible displacements. This article discusses some social issues and challenges facing South Sudanese-Australians in the process of integrating. The challenges and struggles of refugees are multi-faceted and include dealing with difficult decisions such as abandoning their homes and jettisoning their belongings as they flee. These issues significantly affect their lives, because their social networks and economic livelihoods have been disrupted by displacements and forced migrations so they are often exposed to dangers and uncertain journeys

Large numbers of South Sudanese families, who are currently living in Australia, came from refugee camps such as the Kakuma refugee camp in Kenya, from other camps in Uganda, Ethiopia and urban cities in Egypt. These camps are characterized by shortages of food, inadequate medical services, and lack of sanitation.

2       Settlement Issues
The settlement issues of the people from refugee backgrounds can be complex so refugees require ongoing assistance and support from the host community, government, and non-government agencies to address different settlement challenges. Sometimes families and individuals can make their ways to achieve a better or successful settlement. However, the question of a successful settlement is still debatable as to what this means for refugees. There are various rationalizations in relation to what it means to be “well settled” in a new country. These include feeling safe from racism and discrimination, obtaining secure and well-paying employment, buying a home, children feeling well supported at school and in the community, and playing sports with the host community, all without experiencing any aggressive or abusive language. Sometimes, settlement can be a two-way process of mutual understanding of cultural expectations, with the host community working in partnership with refugees. 

South Sudanese community and other Africans, have recently encountered racial vilification in the media by some politicians because of the trouble caused by a few young people, who are making poor choices. Some families are/were not able to control their teenage young people who choose to integrate into the mainstream society in a wrong way by choosing to follow or hang around criminals who happened to train them in criminal activities. Some parents are to be blamed for failing to keep young people or families in control. One of the problems is a high number of separation issues and divorce due to social security reasons and social change, which I will discuss in point four below.

3      Mental Health and Trauma
Mental health issues or trauma are existing and common with people who come from conflict-affected areas such as South Sudan. Unfortunately, mental health or trauma is not often discussed by the South Sudanese or African families because of traditional beliefs and taboos associated with mental health. When discussing mental health or trauma issues with people from South Sudan, their response can be very different compared to the response of people in western societies like Australians. The cultural beliefs and taboos associated with mental health perspectives sometimes make it more difficult for professionals to offer counseling services to families and individuals that may benefit from professional counseling. Sometimes we have qualified social workers and counselors who are willing to assist families and individuals within the South Sudanese community to address some challenging issues related to mental health before it is too late, but people are not open enough to seek support for some reasons. For example, people tend to decline services because it is not part of their belief system.

Mental health issues and other social problems are clearly holding some families and individuals back from progressing and overcoming settlement difficulties. Mental health and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) are impacting and ruining lives of young families and individuals. This is not about diagnosing or labeling people or families, but about acknowledging trauma as one of the settlement challenges when people from refugee backgrounds settle in a new country after experiencing some appalling situations including living in refugee camps. Their experiences in conflict areas, and later in refugee camps, influence their ability to resettle. There is ample evidence from the literature which suggests that those with a refugee background have experienced some form of abuse, rape, oppression, or have witnessed extermination, killing, looting, and destruction of personal wealth. Some refugees have been in slavery, forced to live in exile and in shocking conditions in refugee camps (Abur, 2018; Abur & Spaaj, 2016). These experiences evidently affect many refugees, including those from South Sudan, who may have been forced to live in refugee camps for many years. They bring these difficult experiences with them when engaging in resettlement programs (Abur 2018; Abur, 2012).

4     Social and Cultural Changes
Moving to a new environment and a new culture comes with some social and cultural changes. South Sudanese-Australians are juggling cultural and social changes at the family level. There is a high level of confusion between living in a new culture with some freedoms against a more traditional, conservative cultures in South Sudan. One of the problems is that some men and women are losing their traditional responsibilities of raising families or children in the right way. People are struggling with social change as a result of living in the western culture. However, culture and social change are not static; they depend on individuals and families as to how they want to manage their social and cultural changes. We know that changes can happen anytime and anywhere. Many changes occur between one generation and the next, but changes often need careful and cautious handling, because things can easily go wrong. This is a real problem with some of the South Sudanese-Australians. Social and cultural changes have been mishandled as we see a crisis with young people who are involved in criminal activities such as stealing in shopping centres, carjacking, drugs and alcohol consumptions, which often result into violent behaviors.

Culture refers to a way of doing things within a particular country or in ethnic community groups, which include shared beliefs, values, and norms of governing. The changes in human ways of life and movement have far-reaching effects. Large numbers of people in today's society, do live in cities and towns rather than rural villages. For refugees, culture and social change are a huge part of their experience. For example, being a refugee and resettling in an unfamiliar environment carries many complex experiences including loss of life and cultural change. One must work hard to understand the culture of a host country and entitlement system which requires a certain level of education to fully understand. 

The adjustment to a new culture and a new environment is a challenging process that each refugee is likely to go through regardless of where he or she comes from. Often, refugees tend to be marginalized in their new societies and in many cases treated as aliens, which causes further suffering and feelings of alienation and struggle to accept a lower socio-economic status than that which they held previously (Abur, 2018). The experiences of refugees in the settlement process often involve unforeseen issues such as meeting new groups of people and challenging social norms. Upon arrival, the socially constructed norms and values of place turn refugees’ lives upside down (Abur, 2018). 

Therefore, cultural and social change have an impact on refugees who have resettled in a new environment and societies that are different from their own experiences and the social norms of their upbringing (Abur, 2017, Abur 2012). There is also a general expectation that refugees will adjust quickly to the expectations of the host society, which (erroneously) assumes that acculturation and integration are straightforward, if not seamless, processes.

5       Raising Family
Raising a family in a culture different from their own is a challenge for South Sudanese and many African migrant families with very little knowledge of western parenting (Abur, 2018; Abur (2017). Children and teenagers tend to adopt new cultures quickly, but their parents still hold on to their own cultures and parenting styles based on where they grow up. As children and teenagers find ways to adapt or integrate into a new culture, they are more likely to struggle with identity issues, and lack of mentoring so they lack what can guide them into the right paths. This is the case with many young people and their families from the South Sudanese community in Australia. There is often tension between parents and teenagers conflicting over the two cultures. Sometimes, parents are left speechless when their teenage children are caught in criminal activities. Sometimes, it can be too late to fix the problem in sophisticated legal systems.

Unfortunately, some parents are to blame in the failure of their young people because they were not able to address their relationship problems. I’m afraid to say this fact, but it has to be raised as I’m aware of many families and individuals who let down their young people for some selfish reasons. Some men and women who ended their relationships choose to be young again by attending night parties and neglected their young children and teenagers’ needs. This is one of the reasons why many teenagers become rebellious against their parents.

Some parents within the South Sudanese or African community groups failed to understand that child rearing is very complex in western societies compared to African society where a child is raised by the whole village. I’m proudly here to say I was raised by the whole village during my time in South Sudan. My parents had no many difficulties like the current issues we are facing with young people. For instance, drugs and alcohol is available everywhere and can easily be accessed by young people.

Often, there is considerable debate within the South Sudanese community among different generations about where they really belong. Some people consider themselves more Australian by adapting to Australian ways of life, and have criticised South Sudanese ways. The differences in cultural values between Australian and South Sudanese societies have been the main issue causing anxiety among parents. Some South Sudanese parents in Australia are greatly concerned about their young people having contact with those outside their own culture, and resist any kind of relationship that a young person can form in their own community (Abur 2018). Some young people may choose not to attend school, and not listen or respect parents' opinions because they think that their parents or adults don’t understand them and their needs. This brings critical challenges for parents in terms of responsibilities within the family  Many parents feel their responsibilities and respect are undermined by local authorities to discipline and raise their children according to their traditions and cultures. Thus, parenting children in a new culture has been one of the challenging tasks for South Sudanese families. Refugees from the South Sudan (and Africa in general) who have resettled in Australia face new challenges in raising families, particularly managing and raising their children in a new culture, which is contrary to their original culture (Abur, 2018).

     What is a Solution to Address the Current Situation?
Australia is regarded as a lucky country for a different generation of migrants who have settled successfully and raised their young generations. South Sudanese families can also work hard by focusing on the positive aspects of the things they can achieve. Parents must really accept the challenge of social change and work together for the benefit of their children. People must seek help from different mentors to mentor them in order to reach to the next level. Adults must not waste their times discussing politics in the community and neglected their families and young people. Both young people and adults or parents must see the challenge as an opportunity to work harder by concentrating in either school or employment rather than engaging in negative behaviors or wasting their time in parties.

Social issues or settlement issues can only be addressed well when there is goodwill to engage individuals and families in activities that connect them with mainstream services, which go beyond existing settlement services. People do need to engage in some useful activities depending on their ages. For examples, participation in employment and sports activities assists refugees to enhance different forms of capital. For instance, employment has a crucial role in assisting them to improve connections with their new society and, of course, earn income for their families. Employment is helpful for refugees, not only for financial gain, but also for identity, learning, and connection. 

Sport is one of many potentially powerful strategies to engage young people in pro-social activities, alongside employment for those who are work-ready. Sport fosters social connections for young people from refugee backgrounds even if they themselves may not be refugees. Its power lies in bringing together people from different backgrounds. Sport can link them to resources and give them a sense of belonging. Sport not only generates health benefits through direct participation in physical activity but through that participation, a platform for communication and social interaction. Participation in sport is thus powerful in motivating and inspiring individuals and their community to socially interact. Participation in both sport and employment provide social, cultural, economic, psychological, and physical capital.

Abur, W. (2018). Systemic Vilification and Racism -Affecting on the South Sudanese Community in Australia, International Journal of Scientific Research. 7 (11)  <
Abur, W. (2017). Challenges of Unemployment and Benefits of Employment for South Sudanese People from Refugee Backgrounds in  Melbourne, Australia, International Journal of Contemporary Applied Sciences, 4 (4), pp 1-36.
Abur, W & Spaaji, R. (2016). Settlement and employment experiences of South Sudanese people from refugee backgrounds in Melbourne, Australia, Australasian Review of African Studies, 37 (2), pp.107-128, Doi: 10.22160/22035184/ARAS-2016-37-2/107-128.
Abur, W (2012) the Settlement Challenges Facing South Sudanese Refugee Community in the Western of Suburbs of Melbourne
Abur, W. (2016). Benefits of participation in sport for people from refugee backgrounds: A study of the South Sudanese community in Melbourne, Australia. 
Abur, W. (2018).  Settlement Strategies for the South Sudanese Community in Melbourne: An Analysis of Employment and Sports Participation, Unpublished PhD’s thesis. Melbourne. Victoria University. <
Abur, W.  (2012).  A study of the South Sudanese refugees’ perspectives of settlement in the western suburbs of Melbourne, unpublished Master’s thesis. Melbourne. Victoria University.

* Dr. William Abur is a social worker and researcher. He attended Victoria University and graduated with a Diploma of Community welfare, a Bachelor of Social work, a Master of International Community Development and a Ph.D. in Migration and Settlement of Refugees. He lives and works in Melbourne, Australia, as a social worker and researcher. For questions about the article, contact the author at
Editorial Note: 
The views expressed in the article belong to the author and do not reflect the views of THE PHILOSOPHICAL REFUGEE. For the veracity of the claims in the article, please contact the author.

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