Research paper on the social services supporting Australian Muslim migrants

The Institute for Social Research has recently published a report by Australian sociologists Lauren Tolsma and Zuleyka Zevallos. The working paper is titled: Enhancing Community Development in Adelaide by Building on the Social Capital of South Australian Muslims. The report provides a sociological analysis of the settlement and support services available to Muslim migrants living in South Australia.

The report incorporates previously unpublished data on South Australian Muslim community organisations. This includes interviews with service providers, representatives and religious leaders, as well as field notes during visits to organisations and the public events that these groups hosted around Adelaide in 2008.

The report considers different forms of social capital in relation to Muslim community development and service provision. Social capital refers to the norms, knowledge and status enacted by social actors through their participation in social networks in order to become more socially mobile, particularly by tapping into the resources and capacities of other groups who are better off. This concept is used to examine the power dynamics in negotiations of social and economic exchange among different Muslim organisations and other groups, including mainstream service providers and government officials.

The study finds that many newly arrived Muslim migrants do not understand the breadth of government-sponsored services available to them, and so they largely rely on a couple of the smaller and widely trusted Muslim community organisations for all of their needs, rather than approaching mainstream organisations for specialised services. In this connection, because some Muslim organisations have stronger visibility among new arrivals, some groups are struggling to manage their members’ requirements, especially given their limited resources. Consequently, a small number of over-worked volunteers deliver targeted assistance for which they have no formal training or qualifications. This includes crisis counselling, occupational assistance and educational advice.

The authors suggest that an asset-based community development (ABCD) approach would strengthen the social network ties and resources both within and external to the Muslim organisations studied. The ABCD framework is an evaluation methodology which first identifies the social and material capacities that presently exist within particular organisations. This information is used to establish practical ways in which those resources might be used to enhance their service delivery. In order to mobilise the existing assets of Muslim organisations around South Australia, the report proposes the establishment of a South Australian Muslim Community Corporation (SAMCC) which would consist of Muslim community service providers, volunteers and their Muslim clients from around South Australia.

Access the full paper from the Insitute for Social Research website: http://www.sisr.net/documents/Tolsma%20&%20Zevallos.pdf