Sunday, 22 April 2012

We'd love to let you in, but...

To those of you who don't know me or what I do, I am a researcher for a three-year research project designed to look at the relationship between language training and settlement success among recently arrived adult migrants in Australia.

Because of my job, I am naturally interested in all things to do with Australian multiculturalism, migration, settlement, and the politics that surround all of these issues. I (along with other non-indigenous Australians, although our politicians tend to blissfully forget this fact) am also a migrant and therefore have a keen interest in other people's migration stories.

I recently read this really interesting article by Swinburne Institute for Social Research's Kerry Ryan about how both the Howard and current Labor governments have made gaining Australian citizenship harder for new migrants. The article's titled Citizenship for Beginners and it details how migrants from certain non-English language backgrounds cannot pass the mandatory citizenship test because of their lack of English or literacy.

One heartbreaking narrative that I keep hearing over and over again among many new migrants is about how frustrated they are that no matter how hard they try, they are always criticised for not being Australian enough. For many, language plays a huge part and new migrants are often mocked, excluded or even abused for not being able to speak English like the average Anglo-Australian.

Let's get one thing straight: the majority of migrants try REALLY HARD to learn English as fast as they can, often through much-needed programs like the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP). But it seems that they are constantly criticised for not learning English fast enough. Remember Teresa Gambaro's ill-thought comments earlier this year?

Anyone who's ever moved to a new country would (or should) understand how hard migrating really is. Heck, don't worry about moving to a new country, moving to a new house can be traumatising enough! The travel, the resettlement, the loneliness, homesickness, learning a new language, a new culture, a new society, etc. etc. I feel like hyperventilating just recalling my own migration process. I didn't even have to do it under the very hard, often life-threatening circumstances that many refugees and asylum seekers had to face.

This is why I get very sad (angry too, but mainly sad) that many in our government and wider society still can't have compassion towards new migrants. Settling into a new country is hard enough, and migrants certainly don't need added pressures and hurdles to become an Australian citizen (to many, the ultimate symbol of acceptance into Australian society).

I get the importance of learning a country's main language for the sake of integration, but rather than setting up mechanisms to hinder migrants' abilities to achieve belonging in Australia, the government needs to invest in helping migrants attain the level of successful settlement that would benefit both the migrants and the wider Australian society in the long-run.

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