Migrants embrace Australia Day, survey finds
A large majority of migrants and refugees new to Australia plan to become citizens and feel it is important to mark Australia Day, according to a new survey.
Most newcomers say they plan to mark the day in some way and that Australia Day events make them feel more welcome in their new country, the survey found.
But most don’t know the significance of the January 26 date and are unaware of sensitivities over the day among some indigenous Australians.
The survey of 150 new migrants and refugees, commissioned by refugee and migrant settlement agency AMES Australia, also found curiosity on the part of recent arrivals about Australia’s history.
The survey, timed to coincide with Australia Day 2019, asked ‘Is a national day such as Australia Day important for the nation?’ Seventy-seven per cent of respondents said ‘yes’ while just 10 per cent said ‘no’.
Sixty-eight per cent said they planned to mark or celebrate the day in some way while 32 per cent said they had no plans.
Only 31 per cent of those surveyed knew the significance on January 26 – the day the First Fleet arrived in Port Jackson – while 69 per cent did not.
An overwhelming 89 per cent of respondents said they planned to become Australian citizens while 11 per cent said they had no plans to become citizens or were not sure.
But only twenty-five per cent of those surveyed were aware of the controversy over Australia Day prompted by some indigenous groups calling it ‘invasion day’. The 38 respondents who were aware of the controversy were split evenly over the issue of changing the date with 38 per cent supporting a change and 36 per cent opting for the status quo. Twenty-six per cent did not have a view.
More than half (61 per cent) said Australia Day would mean more to them if they were citizens while 39 per cent said it would make no difference.
Eighty-two per cent of respondents said they knew, or planned to learn more, about Australia’s history and the reasons Australia Day is celebrated while 10 per cent said they did not.
The survey found Australia Day events and the tone of publicity around the day helped new arrivals feel welcome.
Three quarters said the day helped them to feel more welcome while 17 per cent said it made no difference and 7 per cent said it made them feel less welcome.
More than half of respondents (55 per cent) said Australians should be proud of Australia Day.
AMES Australia CEO Cath Scarth said survey results showed that migrants and refugees were overwhelmingly committed to becoming Australians and contributing to the nation.
“It’s our experience that almost without exception people who are newly arrived to Australia want to fit in and become part of the broader society,” Ms Scarth said.
“They want to learn about Australia’s culture and history and they want to build connections,” she said.
Iraqi refugee and newly minted Australian citizen Hind Goga says she will finally feel connected to her adopted country on Australia day.
She plans to celebrate the day with a small gathering of family and friends after becoming a citizen in December.
“It’s important to me and it is nice to say I have finally become an Australian,” Hind said.
“This country accepted me and gave me sanctuary and asylum and I now feel accepted and I want to do everything I can to contribute to this country and show that I am grateful for the opportunity I have been given,” she said.
“Observing Australia Day, even in a small way, makes you stop and think about those things,” she said.
Ekhlas Franso and her two sisters escaped terror attacks on the streets of Baghdad and survived seven years as refugees living in Syria with little money and no work.
Now, as recently confirmed Australian citizens they can finally move on with their lives confident they have a place in a stable and free society.
This Australia Day they plan to celebrate their good fortune.
“Life in Iraq was difficult in 2006. The violence was increasing with the terrorists and different groups fighting,” Ekhlas said.
“As Christians, things were even more dangerous for us and when my sister was threatened, we knew it was time to leave,” she said.
Ekhlas and her sisters Basma and Nadia fled to Syria where they spent seven years in limbo.
“Life was also difficult in Syria. We could not work and my sister here in Australia was supporting us. She applied for us to come to Australia as refugees and after seven years we were accepted,” Ekhlas said.
Newly arrived Afghan refugee Mirwais Janbaz said he was looking forward to celebrating his first Australia Day.
“I think Australia day is important for the nation, it shows that Australia is a united and peaceful country,” Mr Janbaz said.
He said Australia Day would mean more to him once he became a citizen.
“When I become a citizen, Australia Day will be part of the history of my new country, my new home.
“But even now, even though I am not yet a citizen, I feel welcome here beyond my expectations,” said Mr Janbaz, who arrived in Australia early last year.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist