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Somali students plan for Malaysia

Somali students plan for Malaysia
Misha Schubert
August 7, 2009

AUSTRALIA is considering offering Somali students scholarships in Malaysia – rather than inviting them to study here – to increase the chances that they will return home rather than resettle in Australia.

A senior government MP has written to Foreign Minister Stephen Smith with the proposal, after the Somali ambassador to Indonesia raised the idea on his recent visit to Australia.

Parliamentary secretary for multicultural affairs Laurie Ferguson said ambassador Mohamud Olow Barow was concerned to ensure that more talented young Somalis would return to help rebuild their war-torn homeland.

“He was asking essentially for Australia’s foreign aid program to concentrate on Australian scholarships to Malaysia … because if they come to Australia they are more likely to stay,” Mr Ferguson said.

The deliberations come amid a renewed focus on migration after the arrests of five men of Somali and Lebanese origin over an alleged terrorist plot.

In an interview with The Age amid calls to rethink our immigration intake, Mr Ferguson said he did not support cutting migration from Somalia, which totalled 100 people last year.

“I don’t think there is a case to reduce it,” he said. “If one Albanian Muslim had been involved in this whole thing, I don’t think that would represent an analysis of the total community.”

But he signalled there were plans afoot within government to reshape the resettlement services program to take more account of the issues that were common to migrants from war-affected African nations such as Somalia.

The next tender round for the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy, due later this year, would factor in that 70 per cent of migrants were under 30 and would target problems such as high unemployment and intergenerational conflict.

Mr Ferguson also flagged adding to the orientation programs for refugees, which currently are run before arrival in Australia. He said there had been strong lobbying for onshore orientation to complement the existing AusCo offshore training.

“The view is that perhaps when people are getting on planes to come to Australia, they are not really listening,” he said.

“We are looking at whether we have got to refashion orientation courses here in Australia – perhaps it can be more effective with an onshore one.”

If there were lessons to be learnt from the events of the past week, Mr Ferguson said, one was the need to keep a closer ear on the views of ultra-religious Muslims and not just moderates.

There was a temptation to listen only to Muslims who were most critical of radicals, which gave a distorted view of the mindset of the community.

“If you only connect with the people who aren’t a problem and not on the verge of a problem, you are not getting enough feedback from the people who are alienated,” he said. “You have to be very careful that you don’t only listen to those who you want to hear.”

Source: The Age

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