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Education, Training and Employment for Young People From the Horn of Africa


For a variety of reasons, Australia has welcomed, even encouraged immigration from war-torn nations since early in the last century. The country provided the incentive of permanent settlement and therefore seemed welcome to the early waves of immigrants fleeing the Russian Revolution, World War I and in 1938, Jews who were proven right in fleeing the grasp of Hitler and the Nazis.

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Owing to the “White Australia” policy, the influx of both economic refugees and those escaping persecution or conflict initially comprised principally those of European origin (Whiteford and Manderson, 2000, p. 153). Assimilation was almost taken for granted owing to the commonalities in respect of religion, racial origin and even cultural background. This included the millions who fled Yugoslavia in the 1990s.

Starting 1972, however, two refugee waves altered the immigrant mix and confronted concerned agencies with new problems of assimilation. These were the people from Indochina and the Horn of Africa (HOA).

As the Vietnam War wound down to a tragic conclusion in 1972, the Australia Department of Immigration admitted large numbers of Indochinese fleeing retribution from the victorious Communists. This included those desperate enough to become “boat people”, processed by transit refugee camps in neighbouring Southeast Asian nations before the fortunate ones were accepted and brought onward to the U.S.A., Australia and Canada.

Since 1984, there has also been a significant number of Horn of Africa settlers coming to Australia. The Horn of Africa comprises Ethiopia, Eritrea, Somalia, Sudan and Djibouti. Such refugees mainly fled persecution in their country of origin and had first sought asylum in every country they could reach that had a resident U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.

Many individuals and family had had traumatic experiences of fearing for their lives in their war-torn home countries. Nearly three-fourths of Horn of Africa refugees who have come to Australia reported experiencing some form of torture (counting rape and physical assault) or long periods of living in fear. Such traumatic experiences can frequently be expected to have adverse and significant mental health outcomes, thus adding one more layer to the complexity of social assimilation issues refugees of these nationalities encounter in Australia.

Government may have desired that the incoming refugees lead to more equitable population distribution in the sparsely-settled regions of the country. As it turned out, both economic and political refugees have gravitated in the major urban centres of the nation. For instance, there are more than 20,000 Horn of Africa settlers living in Victoria (Horn of Africa Community Network, 2005, pp. 1-2), more often than not in Melbourne where educational and economic opportunities are presumably perceived to be better. The onus is therefore on the capital cities to respond optimally to the settlement needs of this community of refugees.

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Rationale for the Study

The fact of increased racial diversity in many urban centres around the nation means a persistent challenge – to both refugees themselves and the communities that have welcomed them – of optimizing assimilation, reducing the social ills brought on by past inadequacies, and improving opportunities for all moving forward.

On entering Australia, many Horn of Africa refugees carried the burden of multiple disadvantages brought on by chaos in their home countries. Far too many did not have adequate access to education (Caldwell, 2007), primary health care, shelter and other basic community services. These handicaps naturally worsened the burdens of adapting to their new lives in communities distinctly alien to their prior experiences.

Consequently, the issues facing host communities are substantial, and include employment, education, health, problem gambling and domestic violence. In addition, Victoria’s Premier Kevin Andrews articulated, “Whilst there are support services for newly arrived refugees, there is very little support and encouragement for people who want to move within the state for work and job security.” Much of that difficulty has been attributed to the challenges of coping with local academic standards or even getting training for blue-collar work.

If the young from these countries are facing hindrances in either educational opportunity or academic achievement, this does not bode well for a choice of career paths or long term employment security.

There is therefore an urgent need for new benchmarking research to investigate the current situation of young people from the Horn of Africa with the goal in mind of helping them get appropriate education and employment pathways and ultimately, enhance their integration into mainstream Australian society.


The research aims and research methods ( a referenced explanation of the research paradigm, sample/participants, sampling technique and methods of the data collection and analysis):

Research Objectives

In general, this research proposal will identify the perceptions of young people originally from the Horn of Africa in respect of their aspirations for education and career potential.

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Specifically, this study shall aim:

  1. To identify the problems and opportunities for improvement of education and training, as well as employment opportunities for young people from the Horn of Africa so they will be productive and self-sustaining people contributing to the Australian way of life.
  2. To discover the hurdles to access to education, training and employment for the target population.
  3. To identify such young people’s experience in settling down, education and employment.
  4. To obtain possible explanations for the prevalence of problems and dissatisfaction with educational opportunity.
  5. To explore the cultural, economic, language, psychological and social barriers impacting on students and parents; and to assess the differential impact of having grown up in an indigenous culture, obtained foreign education or already worked elsewhere.
  6. To assess any barriers of transition experience of young people path into vocational and high education and training program through AMES Refugee Youth VCAL.
  7. To explore why young refugee students leave mainstream education and explore positive pathways for promoting the development and academic achievement of young people from the Horn of Africa.
  8. To investigate the existence of perceived roadblocks or understanding gaps vis-à-vis service providers, notably around the concepts and expectations of education and training held by the trainees they are funded to train.
  9. To explore the relevance of unfilled needs and invisible barriers such as settlement-related worries and concerns, including the refugee experience.

Population of Interest, Target Respondents

In this research, ‘young refugees’ shall refer to people aged between 12 and 25 years who share common (and adverse) refugee experience, regardless of their visa classification or status upon entry to Australia. In turn, ‘refugee experience’ is defined as exposure to political, religious or intercultural violence, persecution or oppression, armed conflict or civil discord that incorporates a state of fearfulness for self and family members, having had to leave their country of origin at short notice, inability to return to the country of origin, and uncertainty about the possibility of maintaining links with family and home.

Research Method

It is proposed that this study take the ‘double-barrelled’, sequential qualitative and quantitative research approaches and study instruments so as to maximise the discovery of relevant issues and parameters prior to the embarking on a quantitative, predictive survey (McDaniel and Gates, 1993).

Qualitative Method

Regardless of the subjectivity and reliability issues inherent in small sample sizes, the researcher shall undertake a qualitative research stage to take advantage of the in-depth insights and wide spectrum of perceptions that can be gathered in the course of such studies. There is just no better way than qualitative research to understand the in-depth motivations and perceptions of respondents. Second, undertaking qualitative research first improves the efficiency, relevance and focus of study instruments in follow-up, quantitative research.

The focus groups themselves shall consist of eight to 12 participants each time. They shall be led by the researcher, acting as moderator and pursuing what is essentially an unstructured technique except that it shall seek to cover all points of interest in a Discussion Guide (see ‘General Scope of the Study Instruments’ below). The researcher shall depend on the greater interaction stimulated by group dynamics to have respondents talk at length about the subject of educational opportunity and community assimilation.

The researcher will engage the participants to inform the development of qualitative method component of the research:

  1. The focus group will be from Horn of Africa communities, each one to be homogenous in point of target respondents who speak Amharic, Tigrinya, Arabic and Somali.
  2. This means there will be a minimum of eight focus groups, owing to the need to segment the ethnic/linguistic groups by two significant age groups, those 12 to 17 years of age and the young adults 18 to 25 years old.
  3. The initial focus group will help to minimize the researchers own bias and influence on the design of the questionnaire and will optimize the validity of the data

Each of the focus groups shall be recorded on videotape, the proceedings transcribed and subjected to content analysis in order to structure and maximally inform the content of the survey questionnaire.

Quantitative Stage

Once the survey questionnaire has been formulated and subjected to a pilot study for a test of item sequence and clarity, five versions shall be fielded in English and the four languages as appropriate for the respondent in question.

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At this stage, the research method shall be a face-to-face interview based on the structured questionnaire.

The proposed sample size shall be a minimum of 50 completed respondents for each of eight age/language sub-samples in order to permit the use of parametric statistical analysis (e.g. ANOVA) for between-group differences at the data-processing stage.

The sampling technique shall be quota or convenience sampling as this seems the most efficient way to fill the eight age/language cells. With sufficient care given to random selection, respondent recruitment shall be undertaken in schools, recreation centres (sport venues, community clubs), and community centres (churches, mosques and other centres where youngsters from the HOA can be found).

As well, some opinion-leader input shall be sought by purposive sampling and interviews with current and previous community leaders associated with the HOA, parents of the target respondents, teachers and students from the HOA communities (such as those found at Debney Park Secondary College, Braybrook Secondary College, Maribyrnong Secondary College, Debney Meadows Primary School, Western English Language School and Brunswick Language school).

General Scope of the Study Instruments

  1. What sort of education and training can be offered to the young people with refugee-like experience currently residing in Australia?
  2. How should the “need” of the refugee young people be conceptualized and what sort of supports do these young people require to enable them to be successful in their educational and training goals?
  3. What significant differences exist, if any, in the backgrounds and educational opportunities open to those in Australian schools and most or all of their education in their country of origin people?
  4. What are the social, educational, career path, and cultural barriers perceived by young refugees?

Ethical Considerations

The study will comply fully with University guidelines for educational and social science research on human respondents by ensuring that:

  • All participation will be voluntary. Target respondents shall be asked to sign a separate consent form at the end of the focus groups and the structured questionnaire proper.
  • No personal information was collected other than those necessary to classify the respondent by nationality, current locale, age, and income class. In particular, no names, addresses or contact information shall be obtained other than what is necessary for post-fieldwork quality control and back-checking of vague/illegible answers. After this necessary activity, such names and contact information shall be destroyed, never to be encoded for data processing.
  • The researcher shall submit to the supervision of the University Institutional Review Board under the guidelines of undertaking a scientific investigation and being designed to contribute to generalizable knowledge. Further, the proponent undertakes to submit the full research protocol, consent forms, and survey questionnaire proper for review.
  • Neither pilot interviews nor any fieldwork shall commence without written notice of approval from the IRB chair or full board.
  • The research shall involve no minors unless a responsible adult is present. Nor shall the study expose any respondent to physical, moral or emotional risk. Neither are any survey responses reasonably expected to result in grounds for academic discipline and sanction.

Significance of the Research

Identifying roadblocks to education and future employment is an important issue for all African migrants and refugees. Identifying these problems and promoting recommendations for helpful action moving forward will ultimately improve the capacity of families and individuals from the Horn of Africa to set up effective social network, gain increased self-esteem and self-confidence, and keep alive their aspiration for full integration into Australian society.

Accordingly, the research is aimed to inform the community leaders, service providers, schools and funding bodies about what the system needs to provide support for the most beneficial education and training of this especially-disadvantaged segment of the community.


Caldwell, A. (2007) Government under fire over ‘racist’ refugee ban: Interview with Victoria Premier and Chief Commissioner of Police Kevin Andrews [Internet], ABC/PM Radio. 2009. Web.

Horn of Africa Community Network (2005) Community idol presentation. In: Proceedings of the 2005 Communities in Control conference, Melbourne, Australia. 2009. Web.

McDaniel, C. & Gates, R. (1993) Contemporary marketing research. 2nd ed. Minneapolis/St. Paul, MN, U.S.A., West Publishing.

Whiteford, L. M. & Manderson, L. (2000) Global health policy, local realities: The fallacy of the level playing field. Boulder, Colorado, U.S.A.: Lynne Rienner Publishers.

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