It is easy to see immigrants, especially those who do not speak English well, through the lens of social deprivation. They face disadvantage and, sometimes, prejudice. We forget that these newcomers also bring a global perspective to our nation. Australian immigrants, refugees and asylum seekers remain remarkably well connected with their families scattered around the world. They are good at digital.
They know a lot more than most of us about how the pandemic is handled in Hong Kong, Manila or Mumbai. They are acutely aware of the tragedies playing out in Afghanistan, Myanmar or Syria, or the appalling conditions in the refugee camps of Cox’s Bazar in Bangladesh or Hagadera in Kenya.
These communities have a much keener sense of perspective than most of us who are glued to the daily press conferences of prime ministers and prime ministers. Many of them are in personal contact with the outside world on a daily basis. The challenges facing their families abroad are palpable.
In Australia, despite all the challenges, they find hope. They share an understanding of how crises can strengthen and revitalize a sense of community.
And it matters. Half of people in these groups say their sense of connection with their community has grown stronger since the start of the pandemic, far more than those who speak English at home (35%). Astonishingly, more than half think Australia as a whole has become more cohesive (52%), compared to just 35% of those who speak English at home.
There is a resilience in the face of adversity among immigrants which translates into greater confidence in their future. Due to their decision to relocate, migrants tend to be self-reliant. Refugees are necessarily risk takers. This is one of the reasons they are the most likely Australian cohort to start family businesses.
The world of containment and border closures is not easy. Perhaps now is the right time, amid the frustration and uncertainty, to stop seeing immigrants and refugees as just another problem but a source of strength. Ties of ethnic or religious identity can create a real feeling that we are really all in the same boat.
Multiculturalism is an important source of hope. A sense of community fosters optimism. Life is not easy for newcomers with poor English skills, but they have the unwavering belief that better days are ahead. It’s a message we can all benefit from hearing right now.
Miriam Silva is president of the inTouch Multicultural Center Against Family Violence. Peter Shergold is Chancellor of Western Sydney University. Both are members of the Crescent Institute Board of Trustees.