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Holly Bennett
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Results from the first census of young Australians from refugee and migrant backgrounds are in, revealing a mixed picture of optimism and belonging, against a backdrop of ongoing discrimination.

Almost 2000 young people took part in the Multicultural Youth Australia Census, conducted by researchers from the University of Melbourne’s Youth Research Centre in September and October 2017.

One of the lead researchers, University of Melbourne Professor Johanna Wyn, said the census was an opportunity for participants to be heard and to dismantle some of the stereotypes often attributed to this group of overwhelmingly civic-minded young people.

“Refugee and migrant youth are often talked at or about, but they rarely get a chance to voice their views,” Professor Wyn said.

While the majority (82 per cent) of participants ‘agreed’ or ‘strongly agreed’ that they feel they belong in Australia, almost half (49 per cent) experienced some form of discrimination or unfair treatment in the past 12 months.

Two-thirds (66 per cent) of those who experienced discrimination indicated this was because of their race, while one quarter (25 per cent) said they were discriminated because of their religion. More than one-third (38 per cent) felt either ‘unsafe’ or ‘very unsafe’ when walking alone at night, with young women 3.7 times more likely to feel unsafe than young men. 

Against this backdrop of discrimination, Professor Wyn said most participants expressed confidence in their ability to achieve their goals, be it work or study.

“87 per cent of participants said they feel ‘positive’ or ‘very positive’ about reaching their future goals, with the top two values and goals being ‘having a job they were passionate about’ (61 per cent) and ‘being active in working for a better society’ (45 per cent),” she said.

“This is despite almost half (49.6 per cent) indicating that they were unemployed or underemployed, with racial discrimination the most commonly cited reason for why it is difficult to find work.”

 Professor Wyn said if we want to live up to the image of Australia as the most successful multicultural society in the world, it is time to stop scapegoating migrant youth as criminals or extremists.

“This census reveals that migrant and refugee youth are socially-connected and have a strong civic and participatory outlook,” she said.

“It’s time to fund programs and create opportunities that capitalise on their optimism, civic capacities and desire to belong. The diversity of Australian society is shaped by migration, so we must do more to support these young people to feel valued and safe.”

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