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Indochinese Refugee Families in Australia: A Multicultural Perspective

Published in Cultural Diversity and the Family (Ashfield: Ethnic Affairs Commission of NSW, 1997)

Volume 3, as part of the International Year of the Family Project



  1. Introduction

  2. Indochinese Family Concepts and Values

  3. Indochinese Refugees in Australia

  4. Impact of Settlement on the Family

  5. Needs and Challenges

  6. Multiculturalism and Indochinese Families

  7. Conclusion

  8. References



First among the nine priority issues proposed for discussion during the International Year of the Family (IYF) in Australia is the need "to recognise the diversity of families in Australia in terms of their composition, life stage, culture and race, and to celebrate their central contribution to Australia's social and economic welfare and cultural heritage" (IYF National Council, "Issues in Brief", 1994: 4). This paper aims to address this important issue in relation to refugee families in the context of Australia as a multicultural society. It is an attempt to reflect on the impact of cultural diversity, both as a reality and a government policy, on families of refugee background due to their traumatic life experiences and generally more disadvantaged backgrounds, using the Indochinese as the focus of discussion.


After some preliminary discussion on multiculturalism, the paper will look at the resettlement of refugees and more recently migrants from Indochina (Vietnam, Cambodia and Laos), their settlement patterns, labour force participation, social and residential mobility, traditional family concepts and values; and the effects of migration to Australia on the family system, the kinship and social networks, and on major areas of needs. The general impact of multiculturalism on Indochinese families will be briefly assessed before discussion is made on their prospects for the future after nearly 20 years of settlement in a predominantly Western society. Although reference is made to Indochinese in Australia in general, the situation in New South Wales will also be discussed where relevant.


Multiculturalism and Refugees


Multiculturalism is now seen as the acknowledgement of the demographic diversity and social reality that is today's Australia. More importantly, it is a government policy to promote social justice by taking into account the ethnic composition of the nation's population and by responding to their diverse needs and aspirations in order for them to achieve equal access and participation in the life of the community (AIMA Council, 1984: 13-14; and OMA, 1988: vii). As Dunn (1993: 242) puts it, multiculturalism in Australia "is a policy which demands social, economic and political integration by way of celebrating cultural diversity".


According to the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs (DIEA, Current Issues, May 1993: 1)), immigration (including the Refugee and Humanitarian Program) is closely related to multiculturalism, as both provide a platform from which the skills and resources within a culturally diverse population can be developed and used as assets for the forging of a fully Australian identity. Multiculturalism will also foster economic, social, political and cultural growth, providing links with the rest of the world, especially in the Asia-Pacific region. This recognition has also been given at State level, especially in New South Wales where the State Government introduced as a government policy the Charter of Principles for a Culturally Diverse Society in 1993 and is in the process of implementing it through the NSW Ethnic Affairs Commission. Multiculturalism is thus the foundation on which the settlement, hopes and aspirations of the Indochinese and other refugees or migrants in Australia are built.


Indochinese Migration to Australia

The settlement of Indochinese refugees has been of major "historic importance" to Australia which has not previously taken such a large number of refugees and migrants from Asia (Viviani 1980: 2). Numbering more than 150,000 persons so far since 1975, the Indochinese represent for the first time the largest number of such settlers whose languages and cultures are markedly different from previous waves of refugees from Europe. Their presence has generated intense and ongoing debates in political and academic circles about the long-term effects of increasing ethnic diversity on the social cohesion of the nation, about their ability to integrate into a predominantly European society, and their high level of unemployment - averaging three times the national rate (Blainey, 1984, 1994a and 1994b; and Lewins, 1987: 261-273).


The Indochinese are also significant in the history of refugee resettlement in Australia, because they largely gave rise to Australia's current Refugee, Humanitarian and Special Assistance Program with its many policy issues, long application forms and complicated processing. No such bureaucratic procedures for refugees existed previously. After the communist victory marking an end to the Vietnam War in April 1975, thousands of refugees scrambled out of Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam. While the Lao and Cambodian refugees went by land to Thailand, many of the Vietnamese escaped by boat to other neighbouring countries such as Hong Kong, Malaysia and Indonesia. Some of these "boat people" also took the risk of coming directly to Australia (Viviani, 1984; and Grant, 1979). Faced with this situation, the Australian Government decided to put in place for the first time in 1976 an "articulated" refugee policy and administrative "mechanisms" to implement it "as a matter of humanity and in accord with international obligations... towards the solution of world refugee problems" (MacKellar, 1976: 44).


Indochinese refugees are selected for settlement here by Australian immigration officials from Southeast Asian refugee camps under the Refugee, Humanitarian and Special Assistance Program (RHSAP), and from Vietnam and more recently Cambodia in the case of family reunion under the Orderly Departure Program (ODP). The latter was introduced in 1979 to allow Vietnamese residents in Australia to sponsor relatives from Vietnam in order to stop them from becoming "boat people" and come directly to Australia. Starting with 691 Indochinese refugees (676 Vietnamese, 12 Lao and 3 Cambodians) being accepted in 1974/75 under the RHSAP, the number steadily increased to 132,178 persons (10,5046 Vietnamese; 16,479 Cambodians and 9,488 Lao) by 1993/94. During this period, more than 2,000 Vietnamese and Cambodians also arrived in Australia directly by boat. Except for the more recent "boat people", these earlier arrivals were mostly allowed to remain.


The Indochinese in Australia consist of a number of ethnic groups. Apart from the main ethnic Vietnamese, Lao and Khmer, there are also smaller minority groups such as the ethnic Chinese from the three countries of Indochina, the Black Thai and the Hmong from Laos, the Nung and the Khmer Krom from Vietnam. The proportions of the minorities today are unknown as ancestry was not included in the 1991 census. An analysis of Indochinese ancestry from the 1986 census (the only such data available) shows the ethnic Chinese to form 34% of those from Vietnam in 1986, 41 per cent of those from Cambodia and 18 per cent of those from Laos (Viviani, Coughlan and Rowland, 1993: 21). The ancestry of the remaining Indochinese from the 1986 census were: 52% Khmer and 8% Khmer-Chinese for those born in Cambodia; about 73% Lao, 5% Vietnamese and 2% Lao-Chinese for those born in Laos; and about 63% Vietnamese and 3% Vietnamese-Chinese for those born in Vietnam, (Coughlan, 1988: 24). The ethnic Vietnamese from Indochina now form "the second largest Asian community in Australia after the ethnic Chinese" (Coughlan and Walsh, op. cit.: 1).


As the number of eligible people in refugee camps dwindles, the refugee component of the Indochinese intakes has decreased from about 15,000 a year in the early 1980's to only 2404 in 1993/94. However, the ODP component has increased significantly from 2000 in 1981 from Vietnam to 9,914 (9592 Vietnamese and 322 Cambodians) in 1991/92 and 6361 (5434 Vietnamese and 927 Cambodians) in 1993/94 (BIPR, Migration Update, June 1994: 22 and 31). The number of Indochinese accepted under the RHSAP is expected to decrease markedly and to stop in the next few years with the recent decisions by the UNHCR to close the refugee camps in Southeast Asia and to repatriate the all remaining Indochinese asylum seekers to their home countries. Indochinese new arrivals in Australia will eventually be mainly migrants under the Family Reunion program, especially from Vietnam. This is already starting to occur. Of the total Vietnamese arrivals of 7,732 in 1993-94, for example, only 29.7% were refugees and the remainder were concessional family migrants.


When the RHSAP and ODP components are combined with the number of second generation Australian-born, it is estimated that there are now at least 200,000 residents of Indochinese background in Australia. The 1991 Australian Census of Population and Housing showed a total of 149,614 Indochinese-born people in Australia with 122,325 (81.8%) being Vietnamese, 17,643 (11.8%) Cambodians, and 9,646 (6.4 %) Lao. The Australian-born Indochinese were estimated in 1991 to have added another 30,000, with 25,151 being Vietnamese of whom 97.4% were under the age of 15 (BIPR, 1991 Census Community Profiles: Vietnam Born, 1994: 38). Of those born in Indochina, 77,654 were males and 71,960 females, yielding a sex ratio of 108:100 (ABS, 1991 Census Birth Place State Comparisons, pp. 1-12).


Indochinese Family Concepts and Values


Despite some similarity in functions, families can differ from one culture to the next in terms of their definition, membership and place in the wider society. In Australia, for instance, couples of the same sex are also seen as constituting families by the Australian Bureau of Statistics (OMA, 1994: 29). The Chief Justice of the Family Court of Australia, Justice Alastair Nicholson, recently called for the law and society to recognise "homosexual couples and their children" as families, because he saw the family "less as a question of law or a question of birth than a deep sense of bonding or affiliation" (Sydney Morning Herald, 4/1/95, p. 1). The concept of family is, thus, not confined to a married couple and their offspring.


Definitions of the Family


With the Indochinese, the family is part of the household and the kinship network in which it is traditionally embedded. These three structures form an integral system, but have been severely disrupted in many cases by the demands and effects of war and migration such as the difficulty of keeping the family system intact during forced displacement as well as the separation arising from the stringent selection criteria imposed by the refugee-receiving countries. For these reasons and the fact that families can be formed and changed during different phases of a person's life, the "family" in a cross-cultural context is "an extremely elusive" concept (Morrissey, Mitchell and Rutherford, 1991: xii). The Australian IYF National Council, for instance, has adopted a broader definition, seeing families as "generations of care where kinship and love are the central factors binding people together" (Edgar, BIPR Bulletin, April 1994, p. 14).


For migrants and refugees, there are no typical families, because they may "consist of single men living with a relative or friend, who later marry and have children, or bring wives and children from their countries of birth, and who after some settlement period sponsor dependent parents, siblings, even aunts, uncles, cousins and grandparents" (Storer, 1985: 13-14). As with other communities, Indochinese concepts of the family are based primarily on religious and cultural values, often referring to what is ideal rather than what exists in reality. For the Vietnamese who practise ancestor worship, the family consists of the living (the father as family head, his wife and young children, his parents, older married sons and their wives) as well as the dead within the male family line (Phung, 1979: 117). In accordance with Confucianism, family traditions are maintained through the male descendants. Daughters are expected to marry and move out of the parental home to fulfil their role of "other people's women": married daughters are thus excluded from their paternal family structure.


For the Lao and Cambodians who are more influenced by Buddhism with its ancient Indian mythology stressing individual merits, the traditional family is a more inclusive concept. They are furthermore still steeped in local traditions from the old countries, and see the family as consisting of all the living members of a household who can span across two or three generations represented by a number of married couples or nuclear families closely related by blood ties, including married daughters and their husbands (Whitaker et al., 1972: 48). This is true especially in the rural village context where more than 80 per cent of the people in Laos and Cambodia are found. The Vietnamese used to have a family system, like that of the Lao and Cambodians today, where married daughters remain in the parental household until the birth of 2 or 3 children before they move out with their husbands to establish their own household (Coughlan and Walsh, op. cit.: 3).


In practice, only the well-to-do can accommodate large households with at least three generations living under one roof. With increasing population, the lack of farming land in rural villages had forced many young families to move to urban areas to seek paid employment, especially in Vietnam. As the war intensified from 1968 to 1973 in Indochina, thousands of rural people were forcibly moved to safer urban areas, further disrupting the traditional extended family. Thousands of men, conscripted into military service, were killed, and many others were imprisoned or interned in re-education centres after the war in 1975, leaving their wives to act as household heads or "family generals" at home. These factors and the high costs of living in cities meant that families of the nuclear type and single-parent families became very common in urban areas in Indochina, well before many refugees arrived in Australia in 1975.


Family Roles and Beliefs


In terms of family values, the three Indochinese communities are influenced by their traditional subsistence agricultural economy, Buddhism, Confucianism, Daoism and local spiritualism. In addition, old sayings and proverbs are the means by which people not only base their personal conduct, but also resolve their personal problems: a respected and persuasive elder or conflict mediator in the village often use proverbs to argue for a solution to a family conflict rather than the written law of the court in the cities.


Human societies in Indochina, even in modern times, are basically agrarian with centuries of farming traditions. More than 80% of the population live on the land, the village or hamlet nestling among bamboo groves and palm trees surrounded by irrigated rice fields, the houses haphazardly built next to each other surrounded by chicken coops and buffalo pen with the family garden next to them, and sometimes a Buddhist temple on a prominent site in some of the bigger villages. For the Indochinese refugees of the older generation, this is the life they remember "within the depths of their hearts", even after having moved to the cities or "crossed the Pacific Ocean" for a new way of life (Nguyen XT, 1990: 32). It forms their fondest memories, the source of their nostalgia.


From this subsistence agrarian base, the Indochinese learn that mutual cooperation between members is crucial for the survival of the household, whether it has only one family or a number of families living together. Household members, in addition to their gender-based roles, are expect to observe this rule as soon as they are physically able to carry out household tasks such as cleaning, cooking, getting water and firewood, and helping with agricultural activities. The family head has the role of coordinating the members and their day-to-day responsibilities in the family, including religious worship in the family house or at the temple. As a corporate and production unit, the family needs as much labour contributions from all members as possible: the more workers, the more productivity. For this reason, the subsistence farming system also means that large families are preferred over small ones "because children had economic and social values" (Hassan et al., 1985: 269).


The majority of Cambodians, Lao and Vietnamese believe in Buddhism, although the first two communities follow the more strict Theravada tradition (Little Wheel) while the Vietnamese, influenced by the Chinese, adopt the more liberal Mahayana (Big Wheel) tradition. Essentially, Buddhism sees life as a vast sea of suffering created by ignorance, anger and greed. Happiness can only be attained by overcoming these desires and by doing good through the four precepts of: (1) not destroying life, (2) not taking that which is not given, (3) not indulging in unlawful sexual intercourse, and (4) not uttering that which is untrue. Buddhists believe in re-incarnation and the predetermination of life (Karma or fate): a person's present life is influenced by his or her good and bad deeds in the previous life, and he or she will continue the cycle of birth and death until all earthy desires have been overcome and the person attain spiritual liberation or Nirvana.


With Buddhism, "father and mother should be considered as the East, for they are the foremost. Wife and children should be considered as the West, for they are subsequent to you" (Subasinha, 1993: 20). The Buddha also taught about the obligations between parents and children, stating that the parents' obligations are to: (1) restrain their children from committing sin, (2) establish them in virtuous deeds, (3) educate them in the arts and sciences, (4) have them provided with suitable husbands and wives, and (5) give them their inheritance at the proper time. On their part, the children have to: (1) support and protect their parents and supply their wants, (2) perform the duties devolving upon their parents, (3) maintain the good name of the family, (4) conduct themselves in such ways as to deserve the inheritance of the parental property, and (5) give alms in the name of their parents when they are dead, and make them participate in the merits accruing from this deed (Ibid.: 15)


It is of interest to note that these prescriptions are very similar to those given by Confucius whose teachings are closely observed by the more traditional Chinese and Vietnamese. Among other things, Confucianism institutes ancestor worship where the spirits of the dead of different generations in family are remembered (not revered) through food and paper money offerings during important occasions such as New Year, harvest, birth, marriage and funeral. On each of these occasions the dead are invoked to take part in the joy and celebrations of the family. More importantly, the spirits of the dead are believed to have the power to protect the living and to bring them good fortune or to make them sick: the more they are remembered, the more their positive influence. Confucianism, in the family context, is really "a way to maintain the extended family together" (Nguyen VH, 1993: 2). Thus, filial devotion, obedience and respect of the dead are highly valued, for they are believed to bring rewards to the living, as taught also by Buddha. Obedience is expected between ruler-subject, father-children, and husband-wife. For other family members, this translates further as obedience of grand-parents by parents and their children, father by sons, mother by daughters, older siblings by younger siblings.


Family happiness is achieved when harmony exists in the family, and family harmony is essential for harmony in society. This is illustrated by a Vietnamese proverb which says "contented husband, contented wife: together they can drain the water of the South China Sea". In addition, Confucianism prescribes that for a man, value should be placed on (a) self-improvement so that (b) he can manage his family successfully, before (c) he can rule the country, and finally (d) pacify the world (On Lien, 1993: 88). However, the ideal woman should uphold the "Four Values" of good house-keeping skills, gracious appearance, pleasant speaking, and virtuous conduct. She should also observe the "Three Submissions": to her father when single; to her husband when married; and to her son when widowed. As Pham (1990: 2) puts it, this belief system means that "a woman is born to cook, sew, keep the house clean, shopping, budgeting and raising children... A man would degenerate if he washes dishes or change nappies..."


In addition to Buddhism and Confucianism, the Vietnamese and Chinese also believe in Taoism, another Chinese philosophical system which believes in duality of nature represented by the concept of Yin (negative) and Yang (positive), respect for and living in harmony with nature, patience, simplicity, and moderation in behaviour. To a large extent, Taoism also plays a big influence on people's conduct. Although it does not touch directly on the values and social interactions between members of a household, it prescribes how they should relate to other people and the physical world around them.


These religious and cultural beliefs exert strong influences on Indochinese attitudes to family life. Although they serve as ideal life models for their adherents, they may also be impediments to actions in a legalistic Western context. For example, the Buddhist belief in Karma (fate) means that Lao or Cambodian parents may explain the birth of a disabled child as punishment for their past deeds and may regard the child as an embarrassment to be hidden away. The belief in women's submission to men in Confucianism may mean that a Vietnamese wife prefers to put up with domestic violence for as long as possible before seeking help from relatives or outside authorities. The Taoist belief in maintaining harmony with nature by "doing nothing" may mean inaction in the face of a grave injustice or disruptive conflicts in the family. This would, of course, apply only to older Indochinese who have assimilated these beliefs, but not the younger people who have adopted more liberal Western ideals.


These family roles and value systems belong to the ethnic Vietnamese, Chinese, Cambodians and Lao. There are, however, small numbers of ethnic minorities from Indochina living in Australia who have other family values in addition to those they share with the majority groups. Minorities with their own distinctive language and culture are the Hmong and the Black Thai from Laos, and the Nung and Khmer Krom from Vietnam. There are probably "montaignards" (highlanders) among the Vietnamese but so far they have not identified themselves by forming their own association or informal social network. In general, many members of the minorities from Indochina have assimilated the family values and religious beliefs of the majority society into their own cultures, unless they lived isolated from the latter and could still maintain their own autonomous traditions.


The Hmong, for example, see the family in much the same way as the Chinese, having migrated originally from Southern China. However, they do have their own system of kinship and social structure which see the lineage and the clan as the basic unit of society rather than the family. When two Hmong persons get married, they not only acquire each other as husband and wife but also members of their respective clan and lineage as close affinal relatives (Lee, 1986: 26-27). A Hmong, thus, has equal obligations to these relatives as to members of his own family. A man's social position depends not only on how well he manages his family but also how well he relates to his patrilineal relatives, those of his wife and mother and, to a lesser extent, the descendants of his paternal female relatives.


Among the Black Thai who believes in animism, women play an important role in ritual performance, and are seen as the keepers of family traditions. Like the Lao and Cambodians, theirs is a matrilineal society where inheritance of the family property is passed to the youngest daughter and her husband. The Chinese, Vietnamese and Hmong have many clearly demarcated clans and clan names after which all the children of a married man are named and identified. The Lao do not have such system, and children used to be given only a first name until recently when surnames were invented in the fashion of Western societies. The use of only a given name is still prevalent among rural people today. This means that children in this setting are identified neither with the father's family group nor the mother's, but only with the procreating couple concerned.


Traditional Family Functions


In the confines of the traditional village, the family is the basic social and economic unit, a micro-society onto itself. For the Vietnamese, Chinese and the Hmong who all practise ancestor worship, the family is not only a cluster of people united by blood ties, but also a shelter and a place of worship. The allocation of physical space inside the house to various categories of household members reflects the importance given to different generations, gender and age groups in the family.


The sleeping quarters of grand-parents are usually at the right-hand side at the rear of the house, and those of the parents and younger children on the left next to the grand-parents (Nguyen XT, 1990: 32-33). Male and female older children sleep in separate quarters at the front part of the house next to the entrance and the family fireplace so that daughters can get up early in the morning to clean and cook, and sons can feed the family horses and buffaloes without disturbing the rest of the household. The family altar is located in the most sacred part of the house, the back middle wall opposite the middle door. Next to the middle door is the second most important place in the house, the reception area for guests.


The Vietnamese and Chinese house, thus, acts as the physical means by which the family fulfils its functions of: worshipping its ancestors, teaching family moral code and proper behaviour to its children, mediating and resolving disputes, looking after its aged, caring for sick family members, providing childcare and assistance to the new-born, and finally performing rituals to the dead before burial (Ibid.: 33). Thus, the family dwelling, often with at least 3 generations under its roof, becomes "the source of a person's identity, support, guidance, well-being and welfare, the cradle where all members learnt the value of Vietnamese culture, where the historical, literacy and cultural heritage was transmitted to the following generations" (Nguyen T, 1994: 72).


As in other societies, Indochinese families serve functions which ensure the maintenance of the social structure through the kinship network at the broader level and, within the family, the allocation of power and tasks based on age and gender such child-rearing, physical and emotional support. Members of the household are given their specific roles and functions to fulfil, based on their positions in the household such as grand-parents, father, mother, children, aunt or uncle. Ideally, the male head of the household is the decision-maker, and other members carry out his directives, including his wife.


Beyond this role and task differentiation for its members, the family serves as the focus of kin-based solidarity and social integration for the individual (Levy, 1966: 377-403). For Indochinese steeped in Confucianism, the family is custodian and transmitter of family and social traditions, culture and moral values though ancestor worship and the need to maintain the male family line honour rather than any individual pride. Thus, a Vietnamese or Chinese would more readily identify exclusively with a family and kinship group than with an organisation of his own ethnicity. The family's reputation and welfare are more important than the personal desires of its individual members (Vu, 1976: 18-19).


Apart from providing child-rearing, physical and emotional support for its members, the family is also a model for wider social roles and stratification in Indochinese societies. This is evident by the fact that terms of address prescribing social obligations, status and positions are based on those used in the family. A person is not addressed merely by his or her name but always by the position within the family, such as Uncle Ho or Younger Brother Chu. Relationships are thus expressed linguistically with appropriate terms used in conjunction with a person's given name.


By extension, this form of address is also used with strangers based on the other person's age and gender. A stranger is called uncle, older brother or nephew, depending on which age group he looks like belonging to. A learned person or someone in high office is always accorded a higher status by being addressed as "big brother" even though his age may be lower than oneself. Thus, many Khmer Rouge members called Pol Pot "Big Brother Pol Pot". Where one wishes the relationship to be closer, first-degree kinship terms such as "father" or "mother" may be used with an unrelated person. Thus, terms used in the family pervade other spheres of social relationships in Indochinese communities, not only to denote the importance of family ties and their extension to other people to make one's relationship with the outsider closer, but also to see all members of that society as an inclusive single family nation.


Indochinese Refugees in Australia


Indochinese tend to settle more in certain States and local government areas of Australia than in others. In Sydney, for instance, the more educated and wealthier recent migrants from Hong Kong, Taiwan, India, Korea and Malaysia tend to settle in more expensive or longer established areas in the Hills and Northern districts, while most of the Indochinese live in less exclusive Inner West and South western suburbs whose residents tend to concentrate in low-skilled "working class" occupations.


Settlement and Residential Mobility


Based on 1986 census figures, Coughlan (1992:87-89) stated that 76% of 103,707 Indochinese born residents in Australia lived in New South Wales and Victoria, with almost 17% concentrating in the Fairfield/ Liverpool area of Sydney. The situation is not very different today. The 1991 Australian census reveals that in terms of distribution in different States, New South Wales and Victoria still have by far the largest number of Indochinese with 61,624 persons (41.8%) and 53,314 (35.6%) respectively, a combined total of 114,948 persons or 77.4% of the Indochinese population in Australia. This was followed by 11,472 (7.6%) in South Australia; 9,603 (6.4%) in Queensland; 8,931 (5.9%) in Western Australia; 2,935 (1.9%) in the ACT; 500 (0.3%) in the Northern Territory; and 385 (0.25%) in Tasmania (ABS, 1991 Birth Place Comparisons, op. cit.).


Within New South Wales, the 1991 census again shows that the Indochinese are found mostly in the Fairfield Local Government Area (28,617 persons or 46.4% of Indochinese in the State), followed by Bankstown (6,746 or 10.9%), Canterbury (4,891 or 7.9%), Marrickville (3,955 or 6.4%), Auburn (3,450 or 5.6%), Liverpool (2,378 or 3.8%) and Campbelltown (1,689 or 2.7%). These areas have been traditionally preferred by Indochinese and other recently arrived refugee groups, because of their proximity to the former migrant hostels where they used to be housed after arriving in Australia. As a result of these settlement concentrations, the central business districts of some of these suburbs have developed to cater for the consumer needs of the Indochinese and other Asian groups. Many specialty shops have been set up, attracting further migration to these districts. This is true of Cabramatta and Bankstown in Sydney, and Springvale in Melbourne.


According to Viviani, Coughlan and Rowland (op. cit.: 22-29), Indochinese residential concentration is influenced by three major factors: the time of arrival in Australia, migration status and length of residence. Time of arrival can influence how quickly refugees can get into the labour market: during a period of economic boom, it will be easier to obtain employment in contrast to a period of economic recession. Migration status as refugees may qualify entrants for more government support services, but restrict them from accessing a wider range of jobs due to their low level of occupational and English language skills. On the other hand, the longer Indochinese refugees have been living and working in Australia, the more likely they are to be able to save money to buy houses and move to other areas.


Being refugees without adequate means, most Indochinese families depend largely on public transport to commute to work and prefer to settle near railway lines, bus routes and readily available services. Indochinese who could find employment have been able to move from rented accommodation into private houses, in many cases five years after arrival in Australia. These moves, however, tend to be in suburbs adjacent to their original area of settlement. In Brisbane, for example, the ethnic Chinese from Vietnam appear to move out and own their homes faster or in "new suburbs" than the ethnic Vietnamese who tend to buy in "old" areas where they initially settled (Viviani, Coughlan and Rowland, op. cit.: 74). Dunn (op. cit: 237-38), in his study of Vietnamese concentration in Cabramatta, finds that "Vietnamese families are keen to buy housing" but the new home purchases tend to be in new housing estates within the Fairfield Local Government Area where Cabramatta is located.


Apart from housing being more affordable in these areas than elsewhere in Sydney, proximity to Cabramatta seems to be preferred because of the many services available there rather than the desire to isolate from the mainstream society. It is said of the Cambodians, for example, that their concentration in the Fairfield, Liverpool and Campbelltown Local Government Areas has been influenced by: (1) the location of English language classes and other settlement services such as CES and DSS in the South western Sydney metropolitan region; (2) the allocation of public housing by the Department of Housing and housing affordability in these areas; (3) employment opportunities; and (4) the existence of the extended family network and community facilities such as their own temples and community facilities giving them a sense of common identity with other local Cambodians (Henderson, 1993: 38).


These ethnic concentrations do not mean that some Indochinese refugees will not attempt inter-state migration. Almost all Cambodian and Lao refugees originally settled in Tasmania have moved to mainland States in search of employment. Of the 1,200 Hmong from Laos in Australia, a quarter have migrated from Sydney, Melbourne and Hobart to Innisfail and Cairns in Queensland during the past five years. The trend is continuing with another six families leaving Hobart for Toowoomba in December 1994 to do market gardening there. These are the more enterprising who have accumulated sufficient capital after many years in the southern States.


In addition to factors such as length of residence, occupational skills, availability of employment and the accumulation of capital for home purchases, family reunion has also played a major role in the Indochinese distribution in Australia. As more Indochinese refugees are settled here, family reunion cases also increase, but mainly from Vietnam and Cambodia. Of the new arrivals in 1992-93, for example, 5,651 were family migration entrants from Vietnam compared to 1,902 refugees. For Cambodians, the intake for the same year was 343 migration cases and only 5 refugees. These family reunion arrivals, sponsored under assurance of support by already established refugee relatives in Australia, tend to find accommodation close to their sponsors or in the familiar suburbs occupied earlier by the latter such as Cabramatta and Bankstown in Sydney, or Fitzroy in Melbourne. The result is that although many Indochinese have moved elsewhere, these suburbs continue to experience concentration with the more recent arrivals, making them appear to change little in their demographic composition.


Consequences of Current Settlement Patterns


Critics of the current government non-discriminatory immigration policy have argued that the increased ethnic diversity of the Australian population would eventually lead to race riots and break-down in social cohesion. Britain and the United States are often cited as examples where the "melting-pot" has boiled over into racial wars in the streets such as the Los Angeles riot in 1992. Beyond the concerns over numbers, critics also fear that large concentrations of a particular ethnic group in one area will create "ethnic ghettos" and prevent the group's integration into the Australian community. Such ghettos will also become breeding ground for gang crimes and other undesirable behaviour.


"Potential ghettos" are residential areas or housing estates where there are large numbers of disadvantaged residents living in a confined space with problems such as high unemployment, delinquency, drug addiction and the reputation as neighbourhoods with many needs. Based on this concept and new figures from the 1991 Australian census, Birrell (1993: 26-31) argues that Cabramatta with its 19,407 Vietnamese residents qualifies as an ethnic ghetto, because it has the largest number of Vietnamese in Australia and conveys a negative image of crimes and high unemployment in the minds of outsiders. This is despite the fact that the Vietnamese there live dispersed among houses and units in many streets in the area. They do not live insulated from the general community, and have not dominated or taken over whole blocks of living space for their exclusive control (shops, schools and other amenities). The Vietnamese made up only 11% of the total population of Fairfield municipality of 175,145 in 1991, and it is difficult to say that they have formed a ghetto among such a large mix of culturally diverse people.


To test the existence of ethnic ghettos in Australia, Jupp, McRobbie and York (1990) analysed data on local government population distribution from the 1986 census, supplemented with field work in Sydney, Brisbane, Melbourne and Wollongong. They concluded that there were "almost NO GHETTOS in metropolitan Australia" but certain areas could become "potential ghettos" (Vol. 1: 72-73). In their view, suburban commercial centres dominated by Chinese and Vietnamese businesses such as Cabramatta in Sydney or Footscray in Melbourne provide "focal points" which make the Asian presence more visible, but they are not ghettos or places which produce poverty and crimes. Such "focal points" of shopping activities should not be discouraged as they are "economically and financially very beneficial" to the local community (Ibid.: 76). Dunn (op. cit.: 242-43) sees Cabramatta as a manifestation of the success of multiculturalism in Australia, a cultural expression with many positive aspects. To many Indochinese and Asian residents, it provides socio-economic adjustment to a new society as well as making a "spatial contribution" to cultural diversity.


Socio-economic Mobility


In general, Indochinese refugees came here without financial assets, and usually depend initially on relatives, government services and welfare agencies within their own communities or on mainstream charity organisations such as the Smith Family or the St. Vincent de Paul Society for general assistance with orientation, housing, clothing and used furniture after moving out from government migrant hostels. Once employed, they soon establish themselves in the community and become self-sufficient within 3 to 5 years of arrival. Government bodies and community organisations may continue to serve many Indochinese refugees, but these service users consist mainly of recently arrived people and the long-term unemployed who lack proficiency in the English language.


Educational Attainment


In the 18 years since their settlement here, many Vietnamese have graduated from universities and are now establishing themselves as professionals in medicine, dentistry and engineering. Among first generation Vietnamese aged 15 and over, 8% did not attend any school at all, 13% left school before the age of 16, 79.7% had no qualifications but 57.7% continued their education after the age of 16 compared to 50.4% among the total national population. While only 3.1% of the Vietnamese had basic vocational training, 6.8% held post-secondary qualifications (7.6% for men and 5.8% for women), compared to 13.9% among the Australian-born population (BIPR, Vietnam-born Community Profile, 1994, p. 18). The level of education is much lower for the Lao and Cambodian: 20% of the Lao in NSW did not go to school or had left school at an early age - the figure for Lao-born females being even higher at 60%. Overall, 80% of the Lao had no formal qualifications (Yamine, 1994: 18).


Apart from disruption by long years of war and living in refugee camps, the lack of formal qualifications is due to the fact that Indochina did not have many educational facilities, especially in rural areas where many refugees now in Australia came from. At best, there might be a junior primary school in some of the larger villages, but high schools and tertiary institutions are found mainly in the bigger cities. For this reason, only a few parents who are well-off can send their children to the cities to pursue further education or vocational training, despite the literacy rate being reportedly 25% for Cambodia, 16.1% for Laos (Economist, 1990: 210) and 15% for Vietnam (Fraser, 1992: 78). On the whole, boys have more opportunity for further education than girls, due to the belief that men are the providers and women the home-makers. Despite this traditional attitude, Indochinese women have found it necessary to join the labour force in Australia in order to help supplement the family incomes, usually in low-paid unskilled jobs as a result of having had less education than men.


Labour Force Participation


Being refugees with low levels of English and work skills, the Indochinese have experienced a high unemployment rate, generally more than three times the national average. According to the 1991 census, the unemployment rate was 39.8% for Vietnamese-born people over the age of 15 (44.9% among females and 36.1% among males), 36% for Cambodian-born and 33% for Lao-born, compared to 11.6% among the total Australian population (BIPR, Vietnam-born Community Profile, op. cit.: 20; and Yamine, op. cit.: 19). The unemployment rate for all Vietnamese females was 44.9% compared to 36.1% for males, probably because fewer women have traditionally been given less opportunity for formal education than men. Furthermore, the Vietnamese show a "twin-peaks" age-related unemployment pattern: highest among those aged 15-24 with 45-65% being unemployed, and those aged 40-65 with an unemployment rate of 40-65% (Viviani, Coughlan and Rowland, op. cit.: 50-51). This "twin-peaks" phenomenon would equally apply to the unemployed in the Lao and Cambodian communities.


Indochinese who are employed are found mostly in low-skilled manufacturing jobs. The 1991 census shows that 89% of the Lao-born in New South Wales were wage and salary earners in low skilled or unskilled jobs, while fewer Vietnamese were in this category with 60.7%. For the Cambodians, this category of occupation is represented by more than 90% of those in the work force. Only 4% of Vietnamese in NSW were managers and administrators with another 11.7% being professionals and para-professionals, compared to 3.7% and 7.9% for the Lao. Vietnamese tradespersons were represented at 14.2% in 1991 with 18.1% being males and 7.9 females. No statistics are available on the Lao or Cambodians who are self-employed or employers, as very few are found in these categories.


These figures indicate that the Indochinese are much like other Asian groups in their employment patters, a few highly educated in middle-class occupations and a large group with less education in working-class occupations (Jayasuriya and Sang, 1990: 12). Apart from lack of proficiency in English and work skills, the high rate of unemployment can be partly attributed to the current economic recession in Australia and to fundamental structural changes in the Australian economy, resulting in severe cuts in the numbers of unskilled and semi-skilled jobs in the manufacturing sector in the late 1980's. In response to this process, many women have taken up self-employment through setting up small business and shops, or doing part-time work. Some have become full-time "outworkers" in such industries as textiles, footwear, electronics, food and grocery packaging, sometimes assisted by their husbands and children. Indochinese women have, thus, joined in this general trend, making the home and the family garage into "outwork" premises. In a survey of 224 women outworkers in NSW in 1987, it was found that 38% were doing paid work in the clothing industry, involving mainly migrant and Indochinese women (NSW Women's Directorate/EAC, 1987: 12).


Mobility Blockage and Class Formation


Given the current economic situation in Australia and the educational backgrounds of Indochinese refugees discussed above, what can be said about their social mobility since their first arrival here in 1975? Unfortunately, there have been very few studies on this issue relating to the Lao and Cambodian communities, as most research so far has focused on the Vietnamese and other larger groups (Wooden, 1991; and Campbell, Fincher and Webber, 1991). These studies generally support the argument that there has not yet been substantial social mobility in the Australian Vietnamese community.


A small number of Vietnamese doctors and professionals have had their qualifications recognised through further re-training in Australia. The Vietnamese "had achieved Australians' levels of university attendance by 1986... and are likely to have exceeded these since then" (Viviani, Coughlan and Rowland, op. cit.: 90). There have been many hundred Vietnamese university graduates in various fields compared to the half dozen Lao and Cambodian young people with tertiary education . This small number is largely because the latter two communities are so much smaller than the Vietnamese and are also more educationally disadvantaged. Those in the medical profession are the most visible with private practices in many areas dominated by Indochinese, but the majority of computer and science graduates have found it difficult to get work. The number of Vietnamese in professional and white-collar positions are still relatively small and thus have not made significant impact on Vietnamese social mobility.


Coughlan (1994: 16-17) found that among 450 Vietnamese households he surveyed in Melbourne during 1990-91, 52.4 % experienced "no occupational mobility", 25.7% upward mobility and 21.8% downward mobility. The exception seems to be the ethnic Chinese males, of whom 56.6% have changed occupations since their arrival. Most of the Vietnamese employed either continued with their first unskilled jobs or remained in the same line of manufacturing work, and those with downward mobility had become unemployed by choice or through retrenchment. Much the same mobility pattern is found with a survey of 393 Vietnamese households in Brisbane which concluded that "clear signs of social mobility" were identified "for a minority" but there are "several groups... who have done poorly in relative terms" such as the young unemployed, single parents, and families dependent on long-term welfare support (Viviani, Coughlan and Rowland, op. cit.: 89). Tran and Holton (1991: 174-75), on the other hand, argue that based on a sample survey of 403 adult Vietnamese in Sydney and 225 in Adelaide there has been "a significant degree of upward mobility between first job and current job in Australia", particularly for those with previous work experience in Vietnam who are more likely to be employed in administrative and professional positions.


However, they find that women tend to do less well "in virtually every aspect of social mobility".

Ip (1993: 57-71) in his study of Asian small business in Sydney and Brisbane found that many of the owners were "reluctant entrepreneurs" who were unable to obtain employment in their professional fields after migrating to Australia, either because of non-recognition of their qualifications or unemployment. Faced with "blocked mobility" and a drop in socio-economic status, they decided on a new direction by becoming self-employed through small business. Despite the long hours and hard work required, many find much satisfaction in "being their own boss". Many Indochinese former professionals and public servants who venture into small business, are also prompted by the same barriers to mobility. Arriving as refugees with little capital, most spent at least their initial years in Australia working in factories to save enough to get into business in order to remain employed and prepare their children for better prospects in white-collar employment.


In a study of 165 ethnic small business owners (including 36 Indochinese) in Marrickville, Leichhardt and Western Sydney, Castles (1992: 185) finds that one fifth of the sample had experienced unemployment through retrenchment in the manufacturing industries. He argues that it "is clearly not the case" where ethnic people get into business because of "a cultural predisposition", but "downward social mobility" and the lack of suitable employment which motivate the setting up of a small business (Ibid.: 188-189). The number of Indochinese small business operators is, however, small compared the rest of the Indochinese population. The 1986 census, for instance, only recorded 4.3 % of Vietnamese males and 5.6% females as being self-employed, and 2.8% and 3.3% respectively as being employer out of a total of 83,048 Vietnamese in Australia (Ibid.: 183). No figures were available on the self-employed from the 1991 census, but Vietnamese managers and administrators were recorded as being 4.7% for males and 3.8% for females, a slight increase from the 1986 figures. Although this small number of Vietnamese self-employed and employers cannot be said to represent marked social mobility, they provide casual employment opportunities for women and young people who may not otherwise find employment in the mainstream labour market.


An analysis of the incomes and labour force participation rates of Indochinese from the 1976, 1981 and 1986 censuses leads Coughlan (1991: 53-54) to the conclusion that they have now emerged as "four distinctive economic classes". Included in the first, the upper class, is a small number of educated professionals and business people with high incomes and successful careers. The second larger group, the middle class, consists of people with long-term employment and stable average incomes, either in blue-collar or office work positions. The third group, the marginal class, are those living "marginally above the poverty line" with unstable employment due to their lack of skills and low level of English proficiency, easily retrenched during by any down-turns in the Australian economy. The fourth class of Indochinese is the "poverty class" whose members live under the poverty level, usually subsisting on long-term social security support with little prospects of escaping from their present predicament, because of age or characteristics similar to those in the marginal class. In Coughlan's view, the first group is expected to grow in size as more young Indochinese become educated and enter the professions while the second group will decrease with the difficulty of obtaining long-term stable jobs in a fast-changing Australian economy. The third and fourth groups will also increase with the addition of unemployed young people and an ageing Indochinese first generation. This "mobility blockage" over time, at least for the first generation, seems to be supported by research on Indochinese refugees in resettlement countries such as the United States, Britain, France, the Netherlands, Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. Reviewing this international literature, Gold and Kibria (1993: 34) conclude that "the optimistic media presentation of the Vietnamese economic situation" is not supported by these studies, and "many Vietnamese appear to be mired in poverty and situated in sectors of the economy that offer little chance for movement into the mainstream".


In summary, it can be said that despite media reports on individual success stories, the overall employment and social mobility of Indochinese refugees in Australia are still fraught with barriers. Recent DSS figures reveal that 55.3% of Vietnamese arriving in Australia in 1989-90 and 70.0% of those in 1990-91 were receiving unemployment benefits in May 1994, despite having been here for 3 to 4 years. This has occurred largely because they have to compete for work with other recently retrenched workers and with "large numbers of other new arrivals" (Healey, 1994: 50). Although migrants of non-English speaking background represented only 14% of the work force in May 1994, they made up 27% of the long-term unemployed in Australia. This trend could have in turn lead to the development of ethnic-based under-classes as suggested above.

Indochinese Family Concepts
Indochinese Refugees Aus

Impact of Settlement on the Family


In a recent feature article in Time Magazine (8 April 1991, p. 23) on the impact of Indochinese settlement in Australia, it was stated that:

"The average Indochinese refugee family still lives in an overcrowded flat or a small house, the husband labouring in, perhaps, a car or soft drink factory; the wife a lowly paid piece worker in the garment industry; the parents unemployable because of their age and lack of English; the children, who may have missed years of schooling, struggling to master the language while at the same time attempting to keep up in a class in which most other pupils are native speakers. In such struggling families, tension can run high. Children can become near-suicidal over their inability to fulfil their parents' expectations. Some find their way into street gangs that hang around the pinball parlours of predominantly Indochinese suburbs".


How accurate is this media stereotype of Indochinese families and their children? Coughlan and Walsh (op. cit.: 1), writing about Vietnamese families in Australia, also observes that the substantial differences in the culture, economy, environment, politics and social institutions between Vietnam and Australia mean that "the Vietnamese family institution in Australia has been subjected to enormous forces which have caused metamorphosis in this institution... and relations within the family, especially power relations, are continuously being reaffirmed and renegotiated. The remoulding... has not been painless, and has frequently been a cause of anguish for family members".


In Indochina, the family was the basis of society in which parents and elders are responsible for decision-making for the family in economic production and allocations, child rearing, the provision of emotional and material security, and the general welfare of family members. The family acts as a channel for the transmission of cultural values and religious beliefs from one generation to the next. A person's identity and position in society are determined by his or her family's reputation, and socio-economic status. In Australia, these functions do not always operate to the same extent. Despite the rhetoric, the family here is taken less into account by the society at large which places the economic production function in the hands of one or two able-bodied members of the family, relegates child care to professionals, and regulates family power relations through myriads of legislation. The functions of cultural transmission and teaching of social values are vaguely left to formal institutions like the school, the media or the Church. Parents, weighed down by the law, often do not know where to turn for help.


This transition from a society where the family has all-encompassing functions across the generations and in all areas of basic human needs to one where family members only come together at nights and weekends but rarely communicate because of differences in interests and immersion in television-watching or electronic games, has greatly affected the Indochinese refugee families, their division of labour, the roles of individual members and their traditional family values. This will now be looked at in the following sections, beginning with Australia's immigration policy which prescribes what kind of families and which family members can be accepted for resettlement.


Impact of Asylum and Settlement Policy


Like all refugees who escaped in stressful circumstances, a large number of families experienced separation between various members during escapes, with the male family heads or able bodied young people leaving first to be followed a few months or years later by the rest of the family members. Most had to make a number of unsuccessful attempts before finally being able to get away (Ly, 1976: 5-7; and Tran, 1988: 56-65). In many cases, husbands had been separated from their wives and children by military service and could not escape with them. For others, family members might have been killed through the mass extermination campaign of the Pol Pot regime (Osborne, 1980: 7-20; and Henderson, op. cit.: 77-85). Still others might have starved to death or endured untold hardships during long months of hiding out from the enemy, waiting for a chance to escape to a safe neighbouring country (Xiong and Donnelly, 1986: 201-244).


Many Vietnamese drowned while escaping in leaky boats on the high seas: women and young girls on these risky sea journeys were also raped by pirates while the men were thrown overboard (Carrington, 1992: 85-94). Long periods of camp life also imposed their toll on families (Poussard, 1981: 25-51) as Indochinese women in Thai refugee camps became prey to local Thai civilians or camp guards, and some were abandoned by their husbands because of the stigma attached to rape victims. A few Vietnamese families sent their young sons ahead in the hope of being able to join them at a later stage but many could not do so, thereby leaving the young boys in the care of relatives or strangers in refugee camps. These boys usually ended up being "unaccompanied minors" or wards of State once accepted for resettlement in another country. Without support from their natural families, some of these young people have become involved in petty criminal activities within the Indochinese community.


Despite this, the majority of Indochinese families eventually come to live together, at least as nuclear families in Australia through the Family Reunion Migration Program. A few have managed to bring an elderly grand-parent with them, but members of the extended family network have often been left behind or had to accept resettlement elsewhere. Today, many Indochinese have joined the global immigrant community and, thus, have close relatives scattered in Europe, America or other parts of the world.


Apart from problems due to war and the difficulty of escaping as complete families, the selection criteria used by resettlement countries also contributed to this scattering of Indochinese refugees across the globe, or the fragmentation of the extended network. After the first few years of intakes, refugee fatigue and the huge demand for resettlement places forced many governments to introduce more stringent procedures to screen genuine refugees, and to apply more selective criteria on the Indochinese and other subsequent refugee groups. Because of the family reunion requirements upon which Indochinese and other refugee intakes to Australia have been based, many married children or independent siblings of sponsors already in Australia have found themselves excluded as ineligible. Families with less education or with disabled children or elderly members have little opportunity of being accepted when preference is given to younger able-bodied families with at least one adult member possessing some degree of English language or job skills.


These selection criteria and the traumatic uprooting of the refugees have many consequences for Indochinese families and their settlement outcomes. Once in Australia, for instance, many Indochinese refugees had to re-examine their concept of the family, especially the three-generation extended household they used to have in Vietnam. They now only have a nuclear family, or at best an incomplete extended family with some members left behind or dispersed elsewhere. This affects their settlement and family obligations in two ways: (1) the need to find employment in order to have money to fulfil their filial duties towards parents and other relatives left behind in Indochina or the refugee camps in Southeast Asia; and (2) strong guilt feeling for those with extended family members still in the old country and with no prospects of returning for a visit.


This financial and psychological "double burden" becomes a source of tension within the family, preventing members from enjoying the peace and freedom they find in Australia, when both the husband and wife have to work to fulfil these obligations. The tension is exacerbated when the husband tends to send more of the family income to help his parents overseas than those of his wife because of a strong sense of filial duty, This also tends to create resentment in the wife when some of this money is earned by her. Family separation, thus, continues to be the main concern of those refugees who have no prospects of reunion with other members now living in other parts of the world (NSW Ethnic Affairs Commission, 1979: 17).


Another effect of government refugee resettlement policy and the trauma of escape is on the family structure of the Indochinese refugees. There is little research on Indochinese family structures prior to 1975 so that it is not possible to know what proportion of the population in rural and urban areas have extended or nuclear families in Indochina. Coughlan and Walsh (op. cit.: 7) cite a study by Hendry in the late 1950s which found that out of 157 people surveyed in various work places in Saigon in South Vietnam, 43.9% were living with nuclear families, 43.9% with extended families, 5.7% with friends and relatives, and 6.4% were boarders. This at least indicates that in urban South Vietnam, nearly half the people in the sample still lived in extended families, and this proportion could be expected to be much higher in rural areas.


In Australia, the 1991 census figures show that Indochinese households with more than one family only comprise: 5.9% for the Cambodians, 5.5.% for the Lao and 4.9% for the Vietnamese. In other words, Indochinese families in Australia are mostly of the nuclear type, which accounts for 88.8% of the Cambodian households, 87.4% of the Lao and 86.0% of the Vietnamese (BIPR, Immigrant Families, 1994: 7 and 9). When compared with 74.7% for the Australian average and with 73.5% for the Australia-born, the Indochinese clearly have significantly more nuclear families. This is a pattern which is contrary to their traditions or to the sensational stories in the media about large Vietnamese refugees overcrowding Australian suburban apartments. However, this pattern of Indochinese family structure is not unexpected, given the traumatic circumstances under which they escaped and were selected for resettlement in Australia.


Of those living in vertically extended households (with parents and married children), 67.2% were Cambodians, 71.1% Lao and 63.7% Vietnamese. For horizontally extended households, 18.9% consist of Cambodians, 21.1% Lao and 21.5% Vietnamese. More than 20% of all Indochinese households have 6 or more people in them in 1991, and 17% of the Cambodian and Vietnamese families are one-parent families (Ibid.: 3), the latter reflecting the problem of family separation or the death of the family head in the war as mentioned previously.

It is clear that the Indochinese in Australia have lost their extended family network, because of the effects of displacement, government refugee selection criteria, and economic imperatives. This loss has been further reinforced by the nature of accommodation in Australia where almost all dwellings are built with 3 bedrooms on the assumption that they will be occupied by typical nuclear families consisting of a couple and their two children. This makes it difficult for new arrivals to establish preferred traditional extended households. Moreover, it is not always possible to find housing close to each other, and families have to be scattered in various streets or suburbs, thus further weakening the extended family network.

Influences of Work Patterns and the Mainstream Society


Refugee parents working shift work or shop-owner parents often put in from 10 to 15 hours a day away from their families, leaving little time to provide adequate supervision or support to their children. In many cases, this has affected the children's school performance when parents cannot participate in their learning activities. This lack of appropriate support in the home is often compounded by academic and social problems young Indochinese encounter at schools such as racism, harassment, lack of motivation from repeated failures, boredom and lack of cross-cultural counselling services for both parents and students.


Furthermore, many parents may not have the English skills or the education background to assist their children with the latter's studies. These parents are sometimes keen to learn how to support their children, but do not know where or how to obtain help. Often, such help is not available within the system, as most youth workers focus on young people, and few actually work with the parents to provide the support they need. Parents are sometimes worried about the fact that the moral guidance and support for the older of their children can be taken over by the state through government-funded youth workers, often without their awareness of what transpire between these young people and the workers, especially when many youth workers have ear rings and long hair - the very kind of attributes parents do not want in their youngsters.


There are other less tangible, but equally powerful factors which have significantly affected many aspects of the Indochinese families. They include the mainstream school education system, the media (especially television), the law, and the welfare system.


The school system is seen to teach only academic subjects without any attempt to inculcate any moral values in children, and in some cases, may even be perceived to be against parents by reporting harsh disciplinary actions to the police. The media constantly project consumer messages which encourage children to demand the most expensive personal items which the parents could not even afford for themselves such as Reebok shoes and design clothing. The legal system is perceived to encourage rebellion by having law to protect children and women against the slightest signs of violence and discipline. Finally, the welfare system is further seen by the more traditional patriarchal Indochinese as adding the final blow to parental authority with its easy social security benefits and its refuges for victims of domestic violence or homeless children. The system is thus seen as working against the family by seemingly giving children many rights and freedom while restricting parents in the exercise of their customary ways of dealing with family conflicts and marital discords.


Being aware of the existence of these outside support networks is seen by many Indochinese as sufficient to encourage some young people to resist their parents, or wives to disobey their Confucian husbands. The alleged victims have only to telephone the police or the Department of Community Services, and they will be taken away from the families without the alleged offenders having any opportunities to explain themselves or to use their own social networks to arrive at a reconciliation. This use of the law to take away family members for the latter's own protection is seen as heavy-handed and destructive to family life in Australia, for it involves protracted court appearances and legal expenses without necessarily improving family relationships.

The influences of these systemic factors, compounded by the demands of the rigid work patterns of working parents, have brought about changing division of labour and role relationships in the Indochinese families in Australia.


To begin with, the traditional roles of grand-parents as carers of grand-children and as respectful elders of the family no longer apply in most instances in Australia. Having the aged pension or other government financial benefits, they no longer depend on their married children for material support. Thus, some of the older parents may not feel the obligation to assist in child care as much as they used to in Indochina. Their Eastern wisdom and life experiences may also be seen as being less relevant to the new Western life style of the younger people in Australia. More importantly, few grand-parents can speak English when their older grand-children may be able to speak English only, making communications between the two generations difficult. This has led to a reversal of roles: young people now have the information and knowledge to help the family through its day-to-day activities while the older members become dependent on them for guidance or assistance with English and accessing services outside the family. In such a situation, relationships cam become strained when the younger people resent socially dependent family members, or when they manifest a clear lack of respect for the cultural values espoused by their conservative parents and grand-parents.


Another major area of change is in the division of family labour. We have seen the subsistence agricultural base of the old country has led to the development of strong mutual cooperation as a survival strategy involving all members of the family, with clearly defined tasks and obligations for grand-parents, parents, husband, wife, sons and daughters. Role allocation is based on age, family positions and gender. In Australia, mutual assistance cannot always be expected when family members have their own separate tasks to perform in their own individual spheres. Young people spend most of their time at schools, studying in their rooms. listening to Western music or watching television, instead of being with other members of the family. Girls may still be required to help with household chores, but not boys. Family members go their different directions and pursue different interests rather than working together in the rice fields as in the old countries. Although there is still a sense of mutual obligations, family members no longer feel very dependent on each other when each now can earn their own living, and often keeps their earnings to themselves.


In Indochina, the husband is usually the provider of the family, although in rural areas all members of the household participate in economic production. In Australia, the husband tends to be the only breadwinner/producer while the rest of the family are consumers. Often, the wife may share in this responsibility when one income is not sufficient to meet the needs of the family. In the case of some Indochinese families, however, the husband may find it difficult to get employment and the family may depend entirely on the earnings of the wife. This reversal of their traditional roles can have debilitating psychological and social effects on both parents and their children such as loss of self-esteem and respect for the male family head as he now assumes household duties while his wife becomes the bread-winner with the children acting as the source of information or advice for their parents and grand-parents. Wives may become decision-maker while husbands have to share in household chores such as cleaning, cooking and washing dishes. Confucian values may cause family tension when traditional autocratic, male-dominated decision-making changes to individual free choice and democracy as female family members are given equal rights to assert themselves by the Australian community at large.


The allocation of power shifts when the functions of traditional elders as family conflict mediators become lost as women and older children prefer outside formal channels to sort out their difficulties by seeking protection from the law or escaping to temporary refuges in their moments of crisis. Often, however, the legal and welfare systems cannot support the victims indefinitely because of lack of resources and cultural sensitivity. In addition, racism from other refuge residents and delay in obtaining longer term public housing may also mean that many women or run-away young people have to return to their own community without having their needs satisfactorily addressed. In some cases, having gone to the system for assistance, the victims may even face being ostracised by their own community after their return because they are seen to have brought shame to their own people by "going public" with their "ethnic" private problems. Many young Vietnamese who have been in detention centres for criminal offences, for example, have been disowned by their parents, and have no family home to return to after their release.


Changing Family Functions: Private Problems and Public Responsibilities


Indochinese in different States of Australia have established their own organisations for mutual support as a replacement of the traditional extended family networks they had lost and as a means of channelling their cultural and religious contributions to the new country. It has been said that "whilst reliance on friends and kin decreases with time, informal networks remain the single most important support for most Vietnamese and are the most important social resources within the Vietnamese community" (Nguyen T, 1994: 92). Although formal groups and regional associations are not new to many urban Indochinese, this becomes a matter of necessity in Australia in order for the members: (1) to provide mutual help to each other in the face of an alienating and unfamiliar environment; and (2) to rediscover their identity, and re-assert their cultural values after the displacement and resettlement trauma they went through, using the formal group to fulfil the traditional functions of the family. These formal organisations give the refugees a sense of community, and "personal identity defined in family terms now also becomes defined in terms of the economic community" with the associations being seen as a "surrogate for the homeland" and the extended family they have lost (Viviani, 1984: 181).


The 1992 Directory of Ethnic Community Organisations in Australia, published by the Department of Immigration, Local Government and Ethnic Affairs, listed no less than 130 Indochinese organisations, including 29 in New South Wales and 52 in Victoria. Many other groups were not listed but are known to exist. For instance, there are more than 40 Vietnamese associations of various kinds in NSW, and 16 Lao community groups. Government funding to a number of the bigger organisations has assisted them in such activities as providing information and settlement assistance to new arrivals, aged accommodation, child care service, community development, family and youth support, or simply presenting their rich cultures at major cultural events. The Indo-China Refugee Association in various States and other mainstream welfare agencies have joined with Indochinese over the years to implement numerous projects such as sponsorship of new refugees to settle in Australia, women's health, AIDS education, juvenile justice, drug and alcohol education, youth camps, school support, English classes and employment-related training. Many of these activities still continue today.


These formal organisations have greatly affected the Indochinese family and its functions in Australia. They were set up in response to the erosion of family roles relating to the provision of material and emotional support which was traditionally assumed by the extended family. These organisations in turn change the roles and expectations of the family by supplanting them with formal services and activities such as the representation of culture to the community at large through organising cultural events, counselling, the resolution of family conflicts and support for women subject to domestic violence, and more commonly assisting anyone with emergency material needs.


From being a total economic production unit with all members playing various productive roles, the Indochinese family in Australia now becomes a unit of consumption. Only one or two adult members now work for incomes and produce for the needs of the whole group, unlike in the old country where all members help in the rice growing or the fishing and gathering of food. As stated in the IYF National Council Discussion Paper (1994: 3), the private caring and responsibilities of the family are put in the public domain through the formal intervention of community agencies and government departments. Whereas in Indochina, most of the refugees operated within a kinship group, they are now in a new society which stresses non-kinship orientations (Levy, 1966: 430-433). The Indochinese refugees have adapted, in turn, by forming their own informal support networks as well as more formalised community structures.


Needs and Challenges


Settlement in Australia has undoubtedly provided Indochinese families with better life chances and living conditions. There remains many challenges and needs, but there are also many improvements, especially for those with the incentives and the skills to help themselves. In the initial stages, however, Indochinese, like other refugee groups, experience a great deal of unsettling change to their lives, when faced with the enormous cultural and linguistic differences between Indochina and Australia. In particular, the more disadvantaged like the elderly, women and middle-aged men often go through long periods of adjustment in the absence of the traditional extended family and other support networks. For many of them, it is not unlike "fleeing the tiger only to meet the crocodile" (Ngaosyvathn, 1993). Faced with no other options, the answer is not whether to flee the danger paused by the crocodile, but how to deal with it for maximum beneficial effects.


Employment and Training


Employment, above all other human activities, is the first priority for people, because it gives them not only economic security by being able to earn a wage, but also their self-respect and dignity. This is very important for refugee families which have lost nearly everything and which are forced to depend on the generosity of governments, non-government agencies and the United Nations High Commission for Refugees while in transit to a country of resettlement or waiting to find asylum in a refugee camp. Once accepted for resettlement, many refugees are usually eager to be on their feet, to be able to support their families, and accept the first jobs on offer. As has been pointed out earlier, many of these early arrivals now find themselves confined to these early menial jobs with little prospects for advancement or change. Others have found it extremely difficult to obtain employment, due to many personal factors and barriers.


Under the refugee and family migration programs, settlers are not selected primarily on the basis of their qualifications or knowledge of English. Moreover, many professionals find their overseas qualifications unrecognised in Australia, but continue to look for work in their professional field, however long that may take, rather than being employed in unskilled jobs. Faced with limited job opportunities in their fields of preference, Indochinese refugees in America, for example, are said to have become "discouraged workers", and have withdrawn from the labour force, with labour participation rate dropping from 55% in 1983 to 39 % in 1987 (US Office of Refugee Resettlement, 1987: 131). Only 31% of Indochinese American households "are fully self-supporting, with the remainder experiencing a high rate of welfare dependency. The low level of welfare payments means that 64% of those who depend on them live below the poverty line (Gold and Kibria, op. cit.: 30).

According to Iredale and D'Arcy (1992: xiii), the average refugee in Australia tends to stay in the same industry and the same job, putting in 40 hours or more working hours per week, mostly involving non-professional blue/white collar occupations which require little formal training. Some have tried to supplement their incomes with second or third part-time jobs, often in the so-called informal cash economy (shops and small business) within their own ethnic communities (Time, op. cit.: 23). Like the "outworkers" who put in between 40 and 60 hours a week to earn only $5,000 to $15,000 a year (NSW Women's Directorate/EAC, op. cit.: 32), these "underground" workers may earn a certain amount of money annually for their long hours of "moonlighting", but may not appear in any official records.


Similarly, some of the unemployed may sometimes manipulate the welfare and cash economy system without getting into full-time jobs (Gold and Kibria, op. cit.: 32-33). Viviani, Coughlan and Rowland (op. cit.: 90) find that apart from the lack of jobs, the high rate of Vietnamese unemployment has been partly the result of those refugees aged 45 or over tending to leave the work force voluntarily before retiring age because of "exhaustion" (from, for example, doing two jobs for 10 years to pay off the mortgage), ill-health or "the effects of long-term stresses related to previous trauma" such as being imprisoned for many years in re-education camps in Indochina. For these reasons, it is possible that some Vietnamese calculate the physical and financial costs of continuing with earning low wages in factories against the incomes from unemployment benefits based on the size of their families, and decide "like other Australians" that it is more cost-effective to become unemployed.


Thus, the period of residence, job quality options and level of skills appear to correlate with the rate of unemployment for many refugee groups, with a higher rate of unemployment for the less skilled and more recent arrivals, and a lower rate for the more qualified and longer residents. This pattern is reflected in the number of Indochinese on social security benefits. A recent study by Birrell (1993: 20) reveals that 32.6% of migrants who arrived in 1989-90 still did not have work and were on Job search or Newstart benefits. For those arriving in 1990/91 and 1991/92, the rates were 30.7% and 31.1% respectively. Figures were not available for Lao and Cambodian new arrivals, but the study found that for Vietnamese arriving here in 1989-90, 59.6% still remained on unemployment benefits in May 1992, compared to those arrivals with better English and job skills from the United Kingdom (19.6%), Hong Kong (3.4%) and China (12.5%).


In Australia. English classes and job training have been provided to many new arrivals in order to help them get into the labour market, but there is a long waiting list for such training in areas with large number of new migrants. In some communities, this means that only a small number of people have undertaken these courses. For example, its is estimated that based on English class enrolment figures available in October 1993, only "12% of the Indochina Chinese community with low level English language skills have undertaken English language courses" (Migliorino and Chan, 1994: 29). The current employment crisis in Australia has hit hard those refugees and migrants who lack English skills and who do not know how to access services and so are forced to remain unemployed, or to confine themselves to long-term employment in menial work in factories (Campbell, Fincher and Webber, op. cit.: 190-191).


The Refugee Council of Australia (1993: 46-49) has suggested in a recent paper on refugee unemployment that attempts to improve the employment prospects of refugees will need to involve: (1) improving existing settlement provisions for all entrants of non-English speaking background to Australia, and (2) meeting the special needs arising from the refugee experience. For this to occur, Australia will need to: (a) recognise refugees as being different from voluntary migrants, (b) develop a consistent policy on the selection of refugee and humanitarian settlers, and (c) take a rational integrated approach to their resettlement. On a more localised level, Coughlan (1991: 54-55) suggests the development of community-based employment programs which will use the skills of Indochinese refugees that "are not readily useful in Australia" such as family and community farming projects for those refugees with farming skills, or handicraft cooperatives for women and the elderly. In the United States, such ethno-specific self-sufficiency schemes have brought "enormous benefits", including financial rewards so that refugees are no longer a drain on State welfare. There are also personal and psychological benefits in such schemes which allow the regaining of self-esteem, and help Indochinese refugees to integrate into their new country.


Racial Discrimination


Refugee settlers have benefited much from their new life in Australia, but sometimes this can be dimmed by negative reactions from sections of the host society, especially if this is persistent over time. Although there are incidents of open racism in the form of verbal abuse, indirect discrimination through the media or in employment is more common. For example, while criminal elements exist among Indochinese as with other communities in Australia, Indochinese offenders are almost always described by local police and the media in the most colourful and racial terms. A shooting in a restaurant may be described as "gang warfare" when there may be only one gun man. The presence of Indochinese and other Asians in Australia has frequently aroused debate in certain quarters about threats to social cohesion with an increasing multicultural population. Illegal gaming by Asian residents, prostitution, gold chain and handbag snatching incidents by half a dozen Asian youth in Cabramatta are often used by the media to taint the whole community, especially the Vietnamese (Waxman, 1993: 94-96).


Statements are often made that Cabramatta is "unsafe" at night, or that the Vietnamese and Asian communities are creating problems in Australia by adding to unemployment, violence, rising real estate prices in some suburbs and declining prices in others, environmental degradation, urban decay, exploitation of the welfare system, crimes and urban decline. While other migrant groups are urged to take up Australian citizenship, negative criticisms have been levelled at Vietnamese refugees for their high rate of becoming Australian citizens with 71.7% of all Vietnamese living in Australia compared to 61.4% for all overseas born (BIPR, 1991 Vietnam Born Community Profile, p. 14). For some critics, this has not been a sign of Vietnamese commitment to their new country, but rather another way to exploit Australian social welfare and other benefits.


It is not unusual to find in the Sydney newspapers big headlines like "Terror as Asian Gangs Rule the Streets" (Sun-Herald, 30/5/93), "Chinese, Key to Heroin" (Telegraph-Mirror, 11/12/91), "Bandits Hit Rich Asians" (Sunday Telegraph, 21/3/93), "Crime and Culture in Cabramatta" (Sydney Morning Herald, 27/4/93), "CIB targets Asian rackets" (Perth Sunday Times, 21/2/93), and "Terror Gangs Target Asians" (West Australian, 16/3/93). This is only a small sample of the most colourful headlines, often on the front page, that any casual visitor to Australia would easily come across. What is common to these newspaper headlines is their direct mention of the term "Asian" along with the crimes, most invariably referring to Vietnamese in the case of home invasions, despite the fact that people of other ethnic backgrounds may also be involved.


Although Cabramatta is branded by the media as a "crime capital", this has not been evident from national crime and prison statistics. Francis (1991) in a study of prison statistics between 1947 and 1966 showed that Asian and African-born migrants had much lower criminal rates than migrants from the U.K., Canada and New Zealand. Figures from the 1986 national prison statistics also show that the Asian-born had a low rate of conviction and incarceration at approximately 1.6 per 100 prisoners. Jayasuriya and Sang (op. cit.: 11) notes that the aggregate data with regard to almost all the major social indicators such as crime rates, fertility levels, divorce rates, health status and educational performance suggests that there are no significant differences between Asian and other migrant groups in Australia.


What is at issue is the tendency by the mass media to locate Asian criminal activities within the culture and ethnicity of the individual perpetrator while ignoring other major contributing factors in the society at large. From the standpoint of local Asian residents, the cause of Vietnamese criminal activities does not lie in some cultural explanation but has more to do with the local high unemployment, communication problems, frustration and occupational blockages, structural prejudices, and distrust of the police and legal system due to their high costs or negative personal experiences. The negative image depicted in the mass media and the political point-scoring on criminal activities in Cabramatta by politicians help to reinforce stereotypes about Indochinese and Asian migrants in Australia in the mind of the community at large. They have also alienated the Indochinese and Asian communities from the mainstream society by making them feel unwanted or undesirable. Above all, such negative attitudes make Indochinese question whether their commitment should be to their new country and community at large, or to their local ethnic group.


Youth and Education


Employment and education are the most important issues for migrant and refugee families: the first is to secure a job that provides an income to meet the basic necessities of life in the family, and the second is to allow one's children "to enjoy a greater range of employment opportunities and a better standard of living than their parents" (Milne and Zelinka, 1991: 5).


Like many first-generation migrants, Indochinese parents hold high hopes that their children will achieve what they cannot: getting a good education in Australia and having a well-paid satisfying job. Many encourage the love of learning and provide as much support as they know how for their children. For this reason, Vietnamese parents are sometimes perceived by teachers as pushing their children too hard, although this "push" has paid off well for the few who make it through Year 12 in the top 20 in the State, or who score enough marks to be admitted to universities. In 1992, for example, six of the top ten High School Certificate students in South western Sydney were Asian, mostly Indochinese (Liverpool Leader, 3 March 1993). In 1994, two Vietnamese students were on this list. These success stories, however encouraging, only tell the story of a very small number of achievers when considered in the context of the total student population in the State who are not high performers.


Identified through the language spoken at home, students from the larger Asian communities (Chinese, Indian, Indonesian, Japanese, Khmer, Korean, Lao, Filipino and Vietnamese) in 1990 totalled 36,842 persons or 5% of the overall enrolments in public schools in New South Wales (16,455 or 44.6% being in high schools). With increased migration from the Asian region, enrolment of Asian students also increase to 48,565 or 6.4% of total student numbers in 1992, of which 21,907 or 45% were in high schools (NSW Department of School Education: Students of Non-English Speaking Background, June 1990 and Mid-Year Census 1992). Students from smaller Asian communities were included under the "Others" category and cannot thus be identified. There are also no comparable figures for HSC students, or tertiary enrolments.


Despite this lack of data, it is obvious that there are many Indochinese and Asian students in government schools. With university and other tertiary entrance now requiring higher entrance scores and the payment of fees, it is possible that many of these students will end up missing out on tertiary education, because they cannot afford to pay these fees or cannot reach the tertiary entrance rank required. Some will eventually enrol in TAFE courses, but most tend to leave the education system after Year 10 or Year 12. Indochinese refugee parents often see only university studies as worth pursuing, and often fail to appreciate the value of tertiary courses in TAFE colleges or other specialist tertiary institutions. This contrasts with their attitudes to studies at the primary and secondary levels with no preference towards any particular institution: the majority are satisfied with having their children in the public school system at these levels.


In general, Vietnamese students achieve more of their educational aspirations than Lao or Cambodian students, due to the importance placed by parents on "hard work, family cohesion and moral rectitude" as central Vietnamese social values (Viviani, Coughlan and Rowland, op. cit.: 38). On the other hand, there are also many Vietnamese young people who, like their Lao and Cambodian counterparts, cannot cope with the Australian educational system. Reasons for this include the disrupted education as a result of years of war in the old country and a lack of appropriate support services for parents and students in Australia, especially in relation to conflicts within the family.


Indochinese parents perceive many problems within the educational system in Australia where children are not taught to love and respect their country through the daily saluting of the national flag, to hold certain core moral values which help maintain order in society, and above all to have discipline. Schools are seen as too free and powerless with students, with too many laws preventing school staff from acting on unruly behaviour by students. The problem of lack of discipline is one that is of great concern to a great many Indochinese parents who find it impossible to teach their children to have patience and to be persistent in their efforts in the face of "freedom", readily available social security support and many other attractions outside the family home. A Vietnamese proverb illustrates this point well: "loving a child is to give him discipline, hating a child is to give him sweet words" (Nguyen V H, 1993: 5).


For some parents, attempts at disciplining their children are met with much resistance from the young people themselves, and parents who inflict corporal punishment fear incurring the wrath of various authorities such as doctors, community workers, the school, the police, the courts and the Child Protection Council. As one father whose three sons had all failed to get into university stated recently, parents have no rights and no hope for their children in this country with so many legal barriers; all parents can do is to feed their children; things like school and work success are a matter of luck when parents are not allowed to discipline their children and when children show little respect for authority figures as they can easily get government support. Many Indochinese parents are also frustrated by their inability to help with their children's studies, due to their own low level of education, and lack of awareness of their children's schooling needs.


The educational needs of young Indochinese and their family conflicts will be greatly alleviated if parents receive more support and parenting education in their own languages which relates to the Australian setting. Many Indochinese young people readily adopt Australian social values, but their parents often resist such values or are unaware of them. Parents have high expectations for their children to succeed in the mainstream society. However, as put by a Lao refugee, the parents "want their children to take in 50% Australian culture and 50% Laotian culture... but this is not happening... the children want to forget about their background" (Yamine, op. cit.: 36). This has resulted in inter-generation clashes, with some of these young persons dropping out of school, running away or becoming involved in gang activities.


Access to Services


Generally speaking, all three Indochinese communities in all the States of Australia have been able to establish their own ethno-specific services to meet their welfare, education, religious and cultural needs, and to help their communities to become self-reliant and to integrate into the Australian society. Thanks to support from local members and to government financial or land grants, many Asian Buddhist groups have also been able to build temples or community centres with matching funds raised within their communities. There are now four Buddhist temples in Sydney for the Lao community, two for the Cambodians and two for the Vietnamese. The ethnic Chinese from Indochina have also built two temples which incorporate the worship of Buddha with Chinese ancestral practice.

Impact of Settlement
Needs & Challenges

Government-Funded Services


In NSW, most of the ethnic-based community facilities are in the Fairfield local government area where many Indochinese live. As there is no suitable emergency accommodation, some of the temples have also acted as refuge for a number of young people without family or for the aged who have problem with their married children. Due to the large number of Indochinese, the NSW Department of Housing under the Local Government and Community Housing Program has so far provided the following grants to the Indochinese communities: $360,000 for an Indochinese women's refuge; $593,000 and land worth $400,000 to build home units for Vietnamese residents; and $667,300 for eight semi-detached cottages for Lao aged (Department of Housing, Annual Report, 1991-92).


In the area of welfare and community services, the Department of Immigration and Ethnic Affairs provided $11 million in 1994-95 for 214.5 grants for ethnic organisations to employ grant-in-aid (GIA) workers in different Australian States, and 93 smaller projects under the Migrant Access Projects Scheme (MAPS) for office equipment or research projects. Of this number, ten GIA grants were made for services in NSW (two for Indochinese in general, one Lao, two ethnic Chinese from Indochina, three Khmer and two Vietnamese). The MAPS funding consisted of one in NSW (for Vietnamese), two in Victoria (one for Vietnamese and one for Hmong), three in South Australia (one for Cambodian, one for Indochinese and one for Vietnamese), one in Tasmania (for Vietnamese), and one in the ACT (for Lao).


Annual welfare grants from the NSW Ethnic Affairs Commission to Indochinese organisations

totalled fourteen in 1994 and 1994/95 for a total amount of $260,000 out a $3 million grant budget. Of this number, one was a community development grant to the Indo-China Refugee Association for a family support pilot project, one to the Indochina Chinese Association for an aged project, five to the Lao community (including one capital and two cultural grants), two to the Cambodian community (one capital and one community development), and six to the Vietnamese community - all community development grants for women, youth and general welfare activities (EAC, 1993-94 Annual Report, pp. 102-131).


There are other government funding sources, but the above are the two main funding bodies for Indochinese and other migrants. Most of these grants, however, are for community development projects while individual settlement assistance (casework) and family support have been given low priority. Although these two areas have the biggest number of people in need, especially recent arrivals with little English and familiarity with the service system in Australia, the emphasis has been to give seeding grants to projects which address needs at the group and community level and which have a short life expectation of only one to three years. Specialised direct services are available from mainstream community agencies such as Burnside and Care Force also have services and projects which are aimed at Indochinese in resolving family conflicts or helping the unemployed, the aged, women, sole parents, people suffering from substance abuse, and the disabled.


For these special needs groups, however, services are not always available from their own ethnic organisations which tend to offer more general settlement assistance such as emergency relief, form-filling, information and referrals. To access the more specialised services, Indochinese families need to be fluent in English or have an interpreter. Because of language and cultural barriers, many of these specialised services are not always used. Relatively speaking, Indochinese refugees tend to use their children, relatives and friends to help with family needs, and will only go to seek outside assistance as a last resort, and then mainly with organisations of their own ethnic backgrounds because of language problem. This means that the few funded Indochinese organisations are hard pressed to serve a large number of clients, especially with the sizeable Vietnamese population. Funding is often inadequate and services are insufficient, especially in relation to casework.


Access Difficulties


At the level of their own communities, Indochinese welfare organisations exist to provide services for all settlers from Indochina. In practice, however, they are mainly accessible to members of the majority groups. In other words, a Vietnamese or Cambodian welfare agency is used by ethnic Vietnamese or ethnic Khmer, but not ethnic Chinese or other minorities from Vietnam or Cambodia. This is due to language and cultural barriers between these distinctive groups, particularly with older people who might not have interacted much with the Vietnamese or Cambodian society at large before coming to Australia.


As stated by Phoumindr (1993: 77) in relation to the Lao refugees:

"in terms of access and equity (for minorities within the Indochinese communities), the services provided directly by the Government or funded to the community sector, may not reach them effectively, due to the many complex social layers which exist in the Lao community. There is no easy solution to the problem, and the problem is not unique to the Lao".


The Hmong from Laos, for instance, lived in the highlands isolated from the lowland majority: only the younger generation had any Lao education and could speak Lao. Hmong elderly refugees in Australia cannot go to a Lao welfare worker for assistance as they do not speak Lao and will need an interpreter, just as they would do with a mainstream agency. Because of this and the fear of being ridiculed by untrained workers in a small community, some minority members prefer not to seek formal assistance from a majority agency (Yamine, op. cit.: 25-26 and 30-31). In the United States, attempts to remedy the situation by appointing multi-lingual workers from Indochinese minorities have not been successful, because the language and ethnic barriers are compounded by social class differences and prejudice. Members of the majority ethnic Lao or Vietnamese would not lose face by seeking assistance from a Hmong or Chinese from their own country because they regard such a worker as belonging to an inferior minority, and some have not hesitated to make their views known to the funding authorities.


On a broader level, the Lao and Cambodians, being so much smaller in numbers than the Vietnamese, also experience major problems with regard to accessing services and sharing resources being dispensed by government departments which often provide demand-driven rather than need-based services. This means determining service provisions on the basis of numbers rather than individual needs. Thus, services that target Indochinese refugees in one broad brush often end up reaching mainly Vietnamese. For example, Indochinese youth work often concentrate on Vietnamese youth, although Lao and Cambodian young people experience the same needs and are involved in similar offences in Cabramatta. There are more than Indochinese 15 youth workers in Sydney, but only two of them work with Khmer and Lao youth. The Lao are characterised by "humbleness, non-aggressiveness and silence in the face of injustice" and these values "serve to bring adverse results to the community when they have to compete in the society at large" (Phoumindr, op. cit.: 77). The same can be said about the Cambodians, but there is more general awareness of their plight in Australia because of the mass media publicity on the genocide under Pol Pot and the recent "boat people" from Cambodia.

What is of concern is that as pointed out previously, government funded projects tend to be of a policy and community development nature. Ethnic groups are funded to lobby for more and better services from government and mainstream community agencies, while the latter are funded to support ethnic community workers to be more skilled in their lobbying and policy activities rather being skilled in their own direct service provision. Examples of funding for such mutual development are Care Force, Indo-China Refugee Association, Burnside and the Cabramatta Community Centre working with Cambodian, Lao and Vietnamese community workers. The Indochinese refugees who really need direct services and on whose behalf these funded organisations all claim to work are lost and forgotten in the merry-go-round of endless meetings between workers inside the confines of their offices. While the needs of many refugees have been met through such projects, the settlement problems of others have not always been solved by the myriad of funded workers but by their relatives and the passing of time.




In the area of emergency or crisis accommodation for Asian women in Sydney, two refuges were established in 1992, one for Indochinese women set up by the Vietnamese Women's Association, and another for young Asian women under the Cabramatta Community Centre. Funding was also recently approved for a third Asian women's refuge, again being auspiced by the Vietnamese Women's Association in Liverpool. The Association is said to deal with at least three domestic violence referrals a week involving Vietnamese women. Emergency or crisis accommodation often takes up to 3 months to obtain, but this is mostly available to women who experience domestic violence and have been living temporarily in women's refuges.


Many Asian women living in mainstream women's refuges sometimes find the racist treatment they receive from other residents more distressing than the situation they left behind in their own home. They are, thus, reluctant to use this type of crisis accommodation. Despite the high need for emergency housing, 1991-92 figures from the NSW Department of Housing revealed that, although 29% of applicants for crisis accommodation were of non-English speaking background, 75% of them were culled out at the first stage compared to 61% of English-speaking background applicants.


In terms of general access to public housing, Federal and State cost-sharing arrangements in housing should mean that government housing is readily available. However, there is still a long waiting list, which can vary from one State to another. In New South Wales, the waiting period is at least six years for government in a preferred area and 4 years in any other areas, compared with six months to a year in Victoria and other States. Refugees are not given no preference as such over other applicants. The numbers of Indochinese in public housing are not known. In general, newly arrived refugees apply for housing assistance as soon as they can but are not given any special treatment. If they meet all the eligibility criteria, they are placed on the waiting list for the area they nominate. Among the Lao, for example, Coughlan (in press, p. 14) reports that, based on the 1991 census, 44.2% were in rental accommodation, of whom 54% are in government-owned dwellings - giving an overall high 23.2% in government housing.


Many Indochinese are aware of "the poverty trap" brought about by being tenants in government housing (Wulff and Burke, 1993: 23-27). This is caused by the requirement that employed tenants pay full market rents, but the unemployed only pay about a quarter of the full amount. This may make some tenants reluctant to obtain employment in order not to pay full rent, and may lock the latter into a cycle of poverty.


For this reason, many Indochinese families have tried to buy their own homes, often in cheaper new estates at the outskirts of Sydney, rather than waiting for or remaining in government housing. For instance, among the 1991-92 NSW Homefund borrowers, 271 were from Vietnam, 28 Laos, and smaller numbers from other Asian countries (NSW Department of Housing: NSW HomeFund Loans, 1991-92). According to the 1991 census, the Indochinese home-ownership rate is 13.3% for Vietnamese and 14.7% for the Lao for those who own their homes outright, compared to 41% of the total Australian population. The rate for those who are purchasing or paying off their houses was: 26.2% for the Lao, 37.2% for the Vietnamese, and between 7% to 70% for the Cambodians (BIPR, Immigration Update, June 1994: 42).


These rates appear low when compared to the Australian average of 68.3%, 90.3% for those born in Italy, and 78.1% for those from Eastern Europe (Hellwig et. al., 1992: 78). Most Indochinese refugees have settled here only since the mid-seventies, and have not yet paid off their mortgages or saved enough to buy a house outright. Asian-born residents in Australia commit 18.6% of their incomes to household purchase payment, second only to the Oceania-born (Ibid.: 42 and 60). Many of them are known to have been able to discharge their mortgages within 7 years. This financial outlay has sometimes resulted in households, especially with Vietnamese, undergoing what is called "housing stress" when their wages are in the lowest 40% but they commit more than 30% of their incomes to housing payments (Junankar et al., 1993: 50-51). Nevertheless, this financial sacrifice, even if the family bread-winner may have to work on two jobs, has meant that some of the refugee families have also sold their first house and are now moving up into their second and better one. However, most of the more recent arrivals still depend largely on the rental market.


Figures from the 1991 census also indicate that the median size for all family households in Australia is 2.6 persons, 4.2 for the Cambodians and 3.9 for the Lao and Vietnamese (BIPR, Immigrant Families: A Statistical Profile, 1994 : 10). Given that the average dwelling occupied by Indochinese has 3 bedrooms, accommodation for the Indochinese may be more crowded than the average Australian-born households, with 1.4 person per bedroom for the Cambodian-born, and 1.3 for the Lao and Vietnamese born. However, according to Coughlan (in press: 15), this does not suggest crowding as a major problem by Australian standards. In reality, many Indochinese households live in more crowded condition than the Australian norm. This is because households headed by a person born in Indochina are ten times more likely to have two or more families in them than households with an Australian-born reference person (BIPR, op. cit.: 8). In 6.0% of all Vietnamese households, more than one in nine persons live in households with eight or more residents (Coughlan and Walsh, op. cit.: 13-14).


Family Reunion


Like earlier immigrant groups to Australia, Indochinese refugees have sponsored their relatives under the Family Reunion program to join them in Australia. The Family Reunion program consists of two components: the Preferential Family category and the Concessional Family category.


Preferential Family migration includes a spouse, a fiance, an unmarried dependent child, a parent who meets the "balance of family" test, a child under 18 coming for adoption, an orphaned unmarried relative under 18, a relative capable of helping an Australian resident in special need of assistance, an aged relative dependent on the sponsor, and a last remaining sibling or non-dependent child of the sponsor. Concessional Family migration includes: a non-dependent child, a parent who does not meet the "balance of family" test, a brother or sister, and a nephew or niece.


In 1988, the Australian Government introduced a tightening of the parent category with the "balance of family test ", followed by further restriction on the spouse/fiancee category because of its potential for exploitation and the tendency for certain migrant groups to marry within their own groups, thus not mixing with the larger community. The changes have arisen largely as a result of concerns over these issues and the large number of Family Reunion cases during the 1980's, mostly brothers and sisters in the Concessional category. This leads Birrell (1990: 14-15), for instance, to suggest that unless a more restrictive policy was adopted, Australia would end up with many low or unskilled migrants from Third World countries in Asia and the Middle East. He argued that Family Reunion migration was like "the chains that bind", because of its snow-balling effects and the large number of siblings common to Third World families. Once one of these siblings are in Australia, the pioneer settler would sponsor as many of his or her siblings as possible and the spouses of the latter would then in turn sponsor their parents and siblings. One chain, thus, leads to another, and forever continues.


In response to these concerns, the Australian Government introduced a refundable maintenance guarantee bond of $3,500 for each principal applicant and $1,500 for each adult dependent, a non-refundable health care levy of $822 per sponsored person, together with English class fees for Family and Independent Entrant applicants in 1992, further making it difficult to access the program. For a family of four, such financial outlay can amount to over $10,000, which is a large amount of money for sponsors, especially former refugees without large incomes or financial assets. The result is that many refugees will "lose their families twice": once by the separation and need for reunion, and once by the Australian maintenance guarantee bond which many cannot afford to pay (NSW Grant-in-Aid Cooperative, 1992).


Another barrier, introduced on 1 January 1993, was the imposition of the waiting period of 26 weeks before newly arrived migrants can claim Social Security benefits, which means that sponsors who are unable to support their sponsored relatives for 6 months after their arrival will be reluctant to lodge applications for them to come and settle in to Australia, especially during periods of high unemployment. Despite these restrictions, Indochinese and other Asians place special social meaning on the Concessional category of relatives, and will try to sponsor those willing to come and settle in Australia. Most parents in Indochina usually have 5 to 7 children and it is often the case that only one or two of these grown-up children live in Australia. Parents who have less than an equal number or more of their children in Australia are unable then to come to Australia.


These changes in policy appear to have lead to a reduction in the number of family reunion arrivals. According to BIPR (Immigration Update, June 1994: 22), the overall number for migration arrivals from Vietnam has decreased markedly since the introduction of the assurance of support bond and the health care levy, from 9,592 in 1991-92 to 5,651 in 1992-93 and 5,434 for 1993-94. When we look at the top 10 source countries of Australian migrants, Hong Kong (with 12,913 in 1991-92 and 6,520 in 1992-93) has overtaken Vietnam since the adoption of these rules for the Family Migration program. The less developed source countries like Vietnam and Cambodia have been affected by these policy changes which seem to have been based on "anecdotal evidence, poorly interpreted statistics, unjustified expectations of an anti-immigration backlash, and plain fear of being ripped off" (Einspinner, 1994: 4).


Multi-Culturalism and Indochinese Families


At the Federal level, multiculturalism is implemented through the Access and Equity Strategy which seeks "to ensure that equitable access to government programs and services by all members of the Australian community is not impeded by barriers related to language, culture, race or religion" (OMA, 1992: 2). Its aim is to achieve better services and fairer outcomes from government programs for all Australian residents.


The 1992 Access and Equity Evaluation Report notes that the impact of the Access and Equity Strategy ha been variable for both clients and government departments. The Strategy had bought about an awareness "among managers and a climate conducive for" changes to occur (Ibid.: 10). There have been improvements in language, information services and cross-cultural awareness. Many departments have included access and equity as part of their corporate plan and culture in an attempt to implement the Government's social justice policy, of which the Access and Equity Strategy is one element.


A recent study of the Lao community and multiculturalism in Australia concludes that in the short time span since its formal adoption in 1989, multiculturalism has helped further the promotion and the appreciation of cultural diversity as a national asset by assisting ethnic groups to maintain and share their cultural heritage through government funding and participation in the cultural life of the nation. It has served to promote tolerance of ethnic differences. However, it has not been able to reach the grassroots level, particularly with ethnic communities which are ridden with intra-community conflicts as these conflicts have not been prevented through the policy (Phoumindr, op. cit.: 76-77). How much have Indochinese families benefited from multiculturalism in Australia ? It is difficult to make an evaluation of their overall impact on all the major areas of needs within the Indochinese communities discussed above since there has been no systematic examination of this issue.


The following is an attempt to look at three areas of needs to see if the three objectives of multiculturalism have been reached with Indochinese refugees: language maintenance, government language service, and equal employment opportunity.


Cultural Diversity and Language Maintenance


In the area of cultural maintenance, only 5 of the 166 community managed ethnic schools in New South Wales provide Indochinese language classes in languages other than Chinese. Many Chinese from Indochina, however, have their own ethnic schools, especially in Western Sydney run by the Indochina Chinese Association or the Australian Chinese and Descendants Mutual Association. Altogether, Chinese language schools account for 50% of the total number of ethnic schools in NSW, with an enrolment of more than 9,800 students, although only a small percentage of their students are from Indochina. These ethnic schools have been able to carry on mainly through the dedication of its members, supported by small Federal and State government grants.


The NSW School Education Department also conducts Saturday community language classes in selected areas. Of the 12 priority languages other than English (LOTE), for example, five are Asian: Mandarin, Indonesian, Japanese, Korean and Vietnamese. Thus, two of these five languages, Chinese and Vietnamese, cater for the need of the Indochinese. The NSW goal is that half of the Higher School Certificate students will study an Asian-Pacific language by the year 2000. Currently, however, few government schools make Asian languages part of the mainstream courses, due to lack of teaching resources and qualified teachers compared to traditional languages such as Italian, German and French. This has meant that in NSW, for instance, only 1,306 students enrolled in Chinese in Years 7-10 in 1991. There is no course at this level in Vietnamese, although enrolment for Years 11-12 was 141 for the same year (a 33 per cent increase since 1988).


The introduction of Asian languages, however, reflects Australia's desire to establish closer trade links with the Asian region more than their relevance to the number of speakers living in Australia. Language maintenance as a means to foster pride in one's cultural heritage and to improve communications across the generations within the family has not been promoted or seen as a priority. Many schools, thus, continue to offer only French and German "taster" language courses in junior high schools and then report them to be the most "in demand", although overall there has been a decrease in enrolment of 30% and 32% respectively in these two languages from 1988 to 1991.


At present, parents in suburbs with a large number of Asian residents who wish their children to be given locally relevant language studies such as Chinese or Vietnamese are often advised to move their children to areas where these languages are taught instead of waiting for the schools to introduce the new courses. For this reason, many Asian parents still have to set up and operate their own ethnic schools outside the mainstream school curriculum in order to teach literacy in their own languages to their children, and to maintain their cultural and linguistic heritage. The problem is that very few ethnic school grants are now given to new groups so that newly arrived groups such as those from the Indian Subcontinent cannot form their own ethnic schools. Thus, older established communities have more access to government assistance.


Another concern with ethnic schools is the lack of recognition by and linkage with mainstream language studies in high schools. This results in few ethnic schools with developed curriculum for advanced levels of language studies which could be integrated into courses in public schools; and few students pursuing ethnic school courses beyond their primary school years. A recent review of the program has made recommendations which will address these issues, but progress in the implementation of these recommendations is very slow and uneven because many ethnic schools depend on volunteers who are not necessarily professional language teachers capable of devising curriculum and linking up with mainstream courses. The School Education Department also appear to give this very low priority, and will only move at its own pace.


Social Justice: Access to Language Services


As has been pointed previously, Indochinese and other refugees without proficiency in English face the difficult task of learning English, and having to adapt to a bewildering new socio-linguistic environment. Among the Vietnamese population of 119,859 persons in 1991, 22.2% of those aged less than 25 reported not speaking English well, while another 2.8% could not speak English at all. Of those aged 65 and over (3,835 persons), 90.7% spoke English "not well" or "not at all". For those aged more 25 years, 43.9% reported speaking English "not well" and 12.3% "not at all" (BIPR, 1991 Census Vietnam-born Community Profile, 1994: 32).


To give all residents equity and social justice in government service provisions, both Federal and State governments provide language service to those who need them as a matter of policy. Many government departments endeavour to use interpreters when necessary. Many have also translated information materials on their services into Indochinese and other community languages. At the Federal level, language service is provided mainly through the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS). State government agencies provide most of their interpreting and translation services through the Ethnic Affairs Commission and through the employment of multi-lingual staff. There are also private commercial interpreters and translators which can be engaged on a fee-for-service basis.


This has been a great step forward. However, some major concerns remain, particularly in regard to access and availability. Firstly, some languages are not available. The most readily available languages are those with large number of speakers and users such as Chinese and Vietnamese. For smaller communities like the Cambodian and the Lao, it is difficult to access interpreting service, especially in an emergency, because there are only casual interpreters in these languages and they are not always available for emergency situations. This applies to both Federal and State language services. For Indochinese minorities like the Hmong or the Ngung people, no service is available because of the small demand and the lack of accreditation facility in these languages, thus forcing families to rely on their own members, friends and relatives. While the problem.

The second area of concern is the impact of government policy on user-pay in relation to State and Commonwealth government language service. TIS raised almost $3 million from this cost-recovery scheme during 1991-92 (DIEA, Fact Sheet, 12 May 1993). This figure was expected to increase to $5.7 million in 1992-93 when TIS would be providing services through 2,000 professional interpreters in more than 100 languages and dialects.


Figures from the Ethnic Affairs Commission of New South Wales reveal that the number of translation assignments at its head office has decreased since the user-pay system came into effect, from 7808 in 1989-90 to 5902 in 1990-91, and 5248 in 1991-92 (EAC, Annual Report, 1989-90 : Appendix 10; and 1991-92: 83). Interpreter assignments, on the other hand, have increased from: 12031 in 1989-90 to 17110 in 1990-91 and 19737 in 1991-92 (Ibid.: 73). The reason for increased interpreter use is most likely due to increase in demand from the large number of new migrants rather than the fact that service agencies now pay the charges instead of the clients having to do it. With translations, the clients have to pay themselves and, thus, only have documents translated if they are really essential, thus reducing the number of translating assignments.


Regardless of these interpreter figures, many government agencies still use clients' children, relatives and friends as interpreters because of time and budget constraints,. This is true in particular in emergency situations with the police or hospitals. The lack of training on how to obtain interpreters also lead some departmental officers such as DSS and DOCS to ask clients what country they came from rather what language they speak. The result is much wastage of money, time and resources when a Vietnamese interpreter, for example, is called for a Cantonese-speaking aged person who hardly speak Vietnamese because the latter happen to come from Vietnam. The interpreter has to be paid for, a new interpreter has to be arranged, and another appointment needs to be made, thus wasting money and the time for both client and staff. This is one of the major concerns.


To compound the problem further, some interpreters are known to give clients lectures or to make racially based comments on clients from another ethnic background with service providers such as nurses and doctors. Some service providers are also reluctant to meet the scheduled cost-recovering fees charged for language services. State government departments such as the Police Service and School Education, for example, receive special language service allocations from State Treasury but may not spend them because of the unpredictable nature of their contacts with clients, the advanced notice required to obtain an interpreters or the amount of paper work involved.


The third problem relates to finding a mechanism to distribute translated information materials so that they reach those who need them most. The smaller Indochinese groups such as the Lao and Cambodians are already suffering from lack of translated government information, as the decision to translate is usually based on demands and the size of the community. However, even for the bigger communities with translated materials available, migrant resource centres or their ethnic welfare agencies have been used as the best distribution points, but this only reaches those who go to these organisations. Even if these materials get to the people, many find them difficult to understand as they contain bureaucratic jargons, or literal translations which are not easy to grasp. This is especially the case for many elderly Asians who may not be literate in their own languages. Thus, written translated materials need to be supplemented by verbal information assistance, but this is not always available.


The final concern in language service provision is the lack of coordination between service providers such as TIS/DIEA, the Ethnic Affairs Commission, and the Health Translation Service. Each of these agencies operate in their own defined areas of jurisdiction. TIS mainly deals with Federal departments, EAC on State matters, and HTS for hospitals and government health matters only. There are services areas, especially in private sector, which are not catered for e.g. doctors. Clients are often left by some government departments to sort out which language service to call upon for what needs. Amid this confusion, those who speak little English sometimes give up their quest for professional interpreting service and will use whoever they can find. It would be of great benefit to them if there was a coordinated approach to information on the subject with the availability of a single pamphlet on all language services, for instance.


Economic Efficiency: Equal Employment Opportunity


A major component of the Australian Government's multicultural agenda is the promotion of economic efficiency through the maximum use of the skills possessed by the residents of Australia, regardless of their cultural and ethnic backgrounds. This will allow for fuller participation by migrants and refugees in the labour force. The question of recognition of overseas qualifications has often been raised in relation to attempts to help new arrivals with foreign training find employment in Australia.


Although refugees are not accepted for resettlement with their occupational skills as a prime consideration, the Australian Government's refugee selection criteria are sufficiently strict to ensure that Indochinese family heads are educated enough in their own countries in order to be able to cope with life in Australia. For this reason, there are many professionals among the Indochinese refugees, and many Vietnamese have high school and university education. In Australia, 4.4.% of the Vietnamese described themselves as managers and administrators for the 1991 census, with another 10.9% being professionals and para-professionals. However, only three are known to occupy prominent managerial positions in the Federal and State public sector.


For Indochinese who are in white-collar jobs, the issues of concern centre around promotion opportunities and work experience. The effects of EEO legislation has been patchy for many immigrant groups. Niland and Champion (1990: 28), in their review of EEO programs in New South Wales, had expected to find model programs in the NSW public sector given that equal opportunity plans for staff of non-English speaking background had been mandatory for the last 10 years, but they found few examples. In the private sector, there were even fewer firms with formal EEO policies and programs for immigrant workers. The 1990 EEO survey of the NSW public sector by the Office of the Director of Public Employment shows much improvement since 1985, although 12% of female NESB staff and 18.2% of NESB male staff experienced racially based harassment at work (ODEOPE, 1992: 137). Language accents continue to be cited as a major barrier to promotion for NESB staff (Niland & Champion, op. cit.:108; and Public Service Commission, 1990: 15).


Thus, the skills of many migrants and refugees in Australia remain untapped, due to these personal and structural barriers. Chapman and Iredale (1992: 379) find that "immigrants with no formal Australian training are treated very similarly to each other in the Australian labour market", regardless of whether a migrant has got a Ph.D. or dropped out of high school in the old country. In other words, immigrants are only given some recognition through better jobs and wages after they have obtained additional formal Australian skills. Stromback et al. (1992: 15) found that Vietnamese males with good English language skills had "a distinctly lower unemployment rate than groups with lower levels of proficiency" but unemployment rate among Vietnamese women bears no correlation with knowledge of English. This finding, however, is not reflected in the level of Vietnamese unemployment and English proficiency, as revealed in the 1991 census. Vietnamese females aged 44 years and over were less proficient in English than males: 47.5% did not speak English at all compared with 20.9% of the men (BIPR, 1991 Census Vietnam-born Community Profile, 1994: 32).

The unemployment rate for all Vietnamese females was 44.9% compared with 36.1% for males, with unmarried females being the highest at 50.7% (Ibid.: 20). There is, thus, an obvious correlation between English proficiency and unemployment.


The question of language skills aside, Coughlan (1992: 94-101) suggests that Indochinese and other humanitarian entrants have not been as successful in the labour market as other migrant groups, because they suffered disruption to their education and professional careers, and wasted long periods in refugee camps without acquiring useful job skills. A 1994 study by the Centre for Population and Urban Research at Monash University suggests that recent refugees and migrants have not been able to find employment because of lack of appropriate support and programs which would meet their low skills and need to become proficient in English (Riley, Sydney Morning Herald, 12/9/94, p. 3). According to the Monash University study, the Australian Government's 1994 White Paper on employment, by focusing on high worker mobility and ongoing retraining, assumes that unemployed people are able to access such retraining programs.


This has also been found to be incorrect in a recent report on retrenched workers' rights by the NSW Ethnic Affairs Commission and the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1993: 21-36). Due to language barriers, many Indochinese do not have the ability to retrain, and many are also not aware of retraining schemes available to them. They are thus likely to become part of the marginalised jobless and ethnically based under classes in Australia. One solution is to put less stress on retraining and to create more jobs in industries which can be taken up by low-skilled people from non-English speaking background. Unemployed people find little point in being on one training scheme after another when there are no jobs available.


In summary, the Federal Government's Access and Equity Strategy initiated in 1985 and extended in 1989 as part of the social justice objective still has much ground to cover before Indochinese and other refugees in Australia can have equitable access to government services and the opportunity to participate fully in Australian society. The 1992 evaluation of the Strategy shows that many barriers still remain, including the unavailability of interpreters, the inappropriate use of interpreters, and the inappropriate use of media for information dissemination. What is of most concern is that "very few Commonwealth departments collect comprehensive ethnicity data on either their clients or their employees" ( Milne and Zelinka, 1991: iii). Without such data, appropriate services cannot be planned and delivered to ethnic clients. In some areas like social security, immigration and settlement services, much confusion prevails due to ever-changing government regulations, making it difficult to keep up-to-date. OMA (1994) has now published a new guide called "Achieving Access and Equity" to assist government departments implement the Strategy with better outcomes. Among the new initiative is the promotion of client participation in the policy formulation, design and delivery of government services.



The Indochinese are not only refugees who arrived here in traumatic circumstances, but more importantly they are also Asians with their own ethnic division into ethnic Vietnamese, ethnic Chinese, Lao, Khmer, and smaller distinctive minorities. Viviani (1984: 173-74) notes that these two factors have a crucial bearing on the outcomes of their settlement in Australia. Despite these concerns, there is no doubt that the majority of Indochinese families have been able to re-establish their lives in Australia, even though they had to wade through many deep waters and strong currents. Many who came here originally with only themselves and few belongings have bought their own houses, and nearly all possess at least a car, and some families now even have two cars. In the space of fifteen years, some have moved from working in factories to running small business for themselves. In the public arena, the Indochinese may not have made much inroad into Australian society, but the Vietnamese have been the first to have entered local government politics in greater numbers than other longer-established Asian groups: there are currently four Vietnamese local councillors across Australia.


Although the Indochinese and other Asians living in Australia are the focus of much negative media attention, this public image will become more positive as their contributions to their new country increase over time. The first generation, despite higher than average unemployment rates, are at least finding the peace and freedom they had sought in their escape from totalitarian regimes in Indochina. They are now establishing a new base, albeit at the bottom of the socio-economic ladder, but from this foundation the second generation will be able to enjoy many more job opportunities and a better life style. In doing this, their families have changed from being predominantly extended to one family households, from a hierarchical autocratic family system to one where there is now more democratic decision-making between husband and wife, parents and children - for many, not without much social and emotional pain.


There is no doubt that living in Australia has considerably reduced the relevance of the traditional family beliefs and functions of the Indochinese. Mutual cooperation by family members can no longer be expected when they stay together less and spend more time away from each other due to each having different tasks to perform and different work commitments. Religious beliefs based on Buddhism and Confucianism become less influential, from lack of interest as parents are more absorbed with trying to provide materially for their families than to instil moral values in their children. Parents are more eager to re-establish themselves in their new country so that their children will have a better life, but this has been at the cost of losing much of their cultural heritage and traditional values. In addition, the law in Australia gives more equality, freedom and protection to women and children, with the result that traditional Indochinese role expectations of women and children have been adversely affected. Women no longer have to submit to their father, husband, or brother, as prescribed under Confucianism.


Nevertheless, the Indochinese and their families have been able to re-establish themselves here and are now accepted as part of the mosaic of cultures which comprise Australia today. This is largely due to the impact of multiculturalism. It is true that at this stage of the process, multiculturalism still face many challenges. Many government and mainstream services still lack cultural relevance to ethnic people, and some are not easily accessible to people of non-English speaking background. This has lead to under-utilisation by groups like Indochinese who in turn set up their own service organisations. While this will enrich the country with a diversified and culturally sensitive system of service provisions, it may also lead to the marginalisation of ethnic services. In order to avoid this in the long-term, there needs to be more involvement by local neighbourhood centres and gender-based service providers (Morrissey et al. (1991: xiii and xiv) so that ethnic organisations are not left to shoulder the responsibilities of look after their own communities by themselves.

Despite this, there are many positive indications that, as a government policy, multiculturalism will assist in the process of integration by Indochinese families into the Australian society, if the policy is nurtured carefully to steer the nation in a creative and rewarding direction. As Wallace-Crabbe (1992: 6) states, multiculturalism should serve as a vision to blend the diverse cultures of the people together so that they live in harmony as a nation. Although this is a major challenge it also attests to the tolerance of all Australians for the reality of cultural diversity in this country. The experience of the Indochinese refugees has largely shown that this vision is being pursued and, to a great extent, achieved despite some shortcomings and resistance from certain quarters of the mainstream community.




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