Sudanese meet Downer to discuss problems
By ANDY PARKS
SUDANESE refugees yesterday welcomed Foreign Affairs Minister Alexander Downer to Lismore, despite Federal plans to reduce the number of them accepted into Australia.
Michael Rong, a Sudanese refugee living in Lismore, said he was 'happy to see the big man', and hoped Mr Downer would listen to refugees' requests and try to solve some of their problems.
Mr Rong was one of about 20 Sudanese refugees who met Mr Downer at the Lismore Neighbourhood Centre. The meeting was held in the aftermath of Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews's announcement that Australia would be reducing the number of refugees accepted from Sudan because they were having problems integrating into Australian society.
Mr Rong told Mr Downer the biggest problem for Sudanese was education for their children.
"They are placed in classes and promoted because of their age, not their performance," he said. "Our children suffer. Often they don't understand because they don't understand the language."
Mr Downer agreed that services in regional areas were harder to access for refugees.
"The Sudanese refugees here in Lismore brought their concerns to me today about some of the difficulties they have had in integrating. They included things like getting a driver's licence, finding employment, education and housing," Mr Downer said.
There are about 60 Sudanese refugees in Lismore and many of those present at the meeting yesterday said they were happy to meet Mr Downer, but did not appreciate the comments made by Kevin Andrews. One woman talked about discrimination she had experienced from local real estate agents when she was looking for a rental property.
"When you go to the real estate it is hard to get a nice house because of prejudice against Sudanese," she said. "The Government must be careful not to put that (view) out. They say 'you don't look after your houses'."
Mr Downer told her landlords or real estate agents could be prosecuted for discrimination.