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Long way from home -

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Long way from home

Broadcast: 07/12/2010

Reporter: Thea Dikeos

A new report into African refugees in Australia has found that many of them face social and
economic isolation and particular difficulty getting a job.


KERRY O'BRIEN, PRESENTER: The story about refugees now - in particular, refugees from Africa.

Last year, 9,000 refugees coming to Australia under official sanction were processed offshore,
almost a third of them from Africa.

But once they arrived, they face a housing crisis and are in danger of becoming welfare dependents.
A combination of lack of public housing and unaffordable private rental markets are making it more
difficult to find stable accommodation

A new report by Sydney Anglicare says that many face social and economic isolation and particular
difficulties getting jobs.

Thea Dikeos reports.

THEA DIKEOS, REPORTER: It's the great Australian dream - a home with a backyard and a Hills Hoist.
But for Sudanese refugee Teresa Thuom it's out of reach.

For the past year, she's rented this house in Western Sydney, with her nine children, aged between
three months and 16. Today, she was evicted.

(Theresa Thuom speaking)

TRANSLATOR: She says the landlord told her to leave the house because there are too many kids and
he wants to rent the house to fewer people.

Teresa Thuom spent three years in a Ugandan refugee camp after fleeing war-torn Sudan. She arrived
three years ago on a humanitarian visa. Since then she has moved a number of times.

(Theresa Thuom speaking)

TRANSLATOR: She says she has lost hope. She doesn't know what will happen to her children, she
doesn't know the future. And she feels like she's still in the refugee camp.

MONICA BIEL, SUDANESE COMMUNITY WORKER: It's getting worse here. It's getting worse.

THEA DIKEOS: Monica Biel is a Sudanese community worker in Western Sydney.

MONICA BIEL: The crisis is all over the community. All the community, they never settle in one
area. Every six months they have to move to another area.

PETER KELL, CHIEF EXECUTIVE, SYDNEY ANGLICARE: From speaking to others who provide services like
us, I think that it's not just a Sudanese problem in Sydney. I think it's a problem that would be
common to many of the refugees who come from war torn countries to Australia in all parts of

(to client) G'day Angus. How are you?

THEA DIKEOS: A new report by Sydney Anglicare says refugees are at the end of the line when it
comes to qualifying for scarce public housing. Peter Kell is the Chief Executive.

PETER KELL: These shortages are compounding not only the problems for Australians of several
generations, but certainly new comers.

MARY PERKINS, SHELTER NSW: Nationwide our public housing system over the last 15 or so years has
lost roughly 20-25 per cent of the funding it once had available to it. That has meant it is not
able to grow to meet community need.

And in fact, nationwide the amount of housing held in our public housing area has gone down.

THEA DIKEOS: The report says without a stable home from which to find employment, send children to
school and contribute to society, African refugees are at risk of being trapped in welfare

While they receive some initial government support to find a place to live when they arrive, that's
not enough.

PETER KELL: There's some quite good short term support systems available. But after three to five
months, those systems disappear to a great extent. And they're left to their own devices - often
with language difficulties, certainly with total cultural differences - in a fairly complex

MARY PERKINS: We would argue that these people actually need proper assistance with housing for a
number of years in order to be able to get the rest of their lives sorted out.

THEA DIKEOS: With nine children, it's difficult for single mother Teresa Thuom to go to English
classes or even find some work. She spends 40 per cent of her Centrelink payments on rent, leaving
just $1060 a fortnight to cover all other living expenses.

The lack of affordable housing and the competitive private rental market drives many to despair,
says community worker Monica Biel.

MONICA BIEL: One day the client tell me 'If I didn't come here, I want to kill myself'. And I said

She talk about the housing problems. She live in the house, the house is very old, she got
allergies, her children are very sick. She went to the doctor, the doctor told her to change the
house. She went to the estate agent. They not able to change the house.

THEA DIKEOS: Mary Perkins is from Shelter New South Wales, a lobby group that advocates for more
public housing. She says these communities sometimes face discrimination when applying for rental

MARK PERKINS: There are enough anecdotal stories out there to suggest for many people the fact that
they have a black face means they don't get shown any housing.

PETER KELL: People who present from a refugee background are often forced to take very
unsatisfactory accommodation if they can find it - houses which are insecure or unhealthy.

THEA DIKEOS: The report calls for a centralised body to provide housing support services to
refugees, but one solution could be migrant hostels like Bonegilla, established during the post war

MARY PERKINS: They could stay in the migrant hostels for up to five years. People didn't
necessarily do that, but they could. They had a solid base from which they could sort out their
lives and sort out the language, the employment, the health problems and all of those things.

THEA DIKEOS: In the meantime, community worker Monica Biel is trying to find a house for Teresa
Thuom and her nine children in Sydney's tight rental market.

(Theresa Thuom speaking)

TRANSLATOR: She says she went to many real estate agents and they rejected her. She didn't find a
house, that's why she's still here.

THEA DIKEOS: Like other refugees accepted by Australia, Teresa Thuom knows she's one of the lucky
ones. But after three years, she's still far from finding a home.

(Theresa Thuom speaking)

TRANSLATOR: She says she can't go back to Sudan. She wants her children here to get an education
and to have good health and a good environment in a peaceful place without war. That's why she's
struggling with the housing problem.

MARY PERKINS: It's pretty poor, really. You know, we've invited these people here. We've said they
can come here in order to be safer and we ought to do more about resettlement process so that they
can actually more confidently make new lives for themselves and deal with some of the very serious
barriers they face in doing that.

KERRY O'BRIEN: Thea Dikeos with that report.