Remittances to South Sudan – an unrecognised source of aid

By Abraham Mamer and Sara Maher

This article is part of our July focus on “Australia in the World”. Click here for more articles in this issue.

Remittance from South Sudanese Australians in Australia to their country of origin totalled $24.6 million in 2012. This means more money is being remitted to South Sudan from Australia than any other country in the world. The money meets diverse needs, including clean water, food, shelter, marriage dowries and business enterprises. South Sudanese Australians believe supporting family is a fundamental social duty.

According to Australia’s 2012 census, South Sudanese Australians born overseas and here, now number 39,000 – making them the largest of any ethnic minorities of refugee background.[1]  Victoria is home to a majority of the population. South Sudanese Australians are making significant contributions to Australian society and economy: they provide the bulk of the workforce in Victorian abattoirs; sporting club recruiters across the country are paying attention to upcoming talent in a variety of codes; and in the field of education, young South Sudanese Australians are graduating from higher learning institutions into a wide variety of professions, including law and medicine.

In December 2010, the Australian government released a new policy, Looking West: Australia’s strategic approach to aid in Africa 2011 – 2015. The document acknowledges Australia’s interests in the continent’s abundant natural resources as well as its development challenges. In alignment with the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) AusAid’s focus is on three areas: maternal and child health, water and sanitation, and agriculture and food security.

Apart from humanitarian assistance, the only aid programme offered in east Africa and in particular South Sudan, is maternal and child health. Additional to aid programmes AusAid is offering to develop human resource capacity in Africa through the Australia Awards, a programme for African students to attend Australian education and research institutions. Skills and knowledge exchanges are also to be created through partnerships between Australian and African organisations. A volunteer programme will also provide African countries with skilled, Australian volunteers to help in capacity building. These programs have been made available to South Sudan but only in a limited way. The Australia Awards only allow South Sudanese applicants the choice of short courses which are one to three months long. MA and PhD programmes, which are available to a wide range of other African nations, are not on offer to South Sudan.

It is now two years since South Sudan gained independence. It is time AusAid extended its programmes to include South Sudan in a fairer and more equitable manner.

Australia ranks number two in the world, after United States, in accepting those designated as refugees by the UNHCR. It offers multi-faceted resettlement programs for refugees and their extended families. Australia, in 2000 – 2010, resettled a high number of South Sudanese refugee families, including a proportion of a group of unaccompanied minors commonly known as the Lost Boys. Countries providing resettlement opportunities, such as Australia, New Zealand, United Kingdom and Canada, all have established long-term social policies with sophisticated welfare regimes that cover the cost of living and support for the unemployed and those unable to work. Other provisions include state housing and health services.

In contrast, South Sudan and all other African countries for that matter, have no government established welfare regimes. Consequently community, family and individual’s provide this type of support. Remittances from the diaspora have in fact created a welfare regime of sorts. This is not peculiar to South Sudanese Australians. All diasporas from collectivist communities are the same; resources are shared regardless of where their family and community members reside.

The United Nations Conference on Trade and Development (UNCTAD) held in Ethiopia in 2012, found  that remittances sent to poor nations from family and friends living abroad had increased from $3.5 billion in 1990 to $27 billion in 2011.

Although South Sudan is considered an oil-rich country, unemployment is high and social policy is under-developed. The unemployment rate in South Sudan is high as 20.9 precent, according to the Labour market report released in Dec 2011 by the Government of South Sudan. The working-age of the expanded work force is between 15 and 64 years of age. Remittances have become an important part of survival for many people.

Remittances by South Sudanese Australians make a tangible and significant contribution to South Sudan, a fact that is largely unknown or unrecognised by the Australian government. This new fact should be used as evidence to inform a more inclusive and equitable foreign policy with this fledgling nation, in the form of developmental aid, a variety of educational scholarships, and a diplomatic relationship. Australia and South Sudan are now deeply connected and this relationship will continue to grow. Australia has far more to gain from this than it currently understands. The Australian Government needs to better understand and acknowledge the very significant relationship South Sudanese Australian citizens maintain with their country of origin.

[1] Australia’s 2011 census data is unclear, and varying figures are reported, but the South Sudanese Australian community believes it’s members, born overseas and here, now number over 30,000.