Lebanese Muslims ‘Worse Off’ Than Other Migrants

Jewel Topsfield, The Age (Melbourne), April 3, 2006

Lebanese Muslims living in Australia are severely disadvantaged, with almost half the men aged between 25 and 64 out of work, a study conducted in the wake of the race-fuelled Cronulla riots has found.

The study, to be published in People and Place journal, found that Lebanese Muslims were clearly worse off than Lebanese Christians and other Australians, both migrants and the native born.

It found the income of Lebanese Muslims per household member was half the national average.

Lebanese Muslims earned a median weekly income of $152 per household member, compared to Lebanese Christians, who earned $253. The national average was $302.

“A key reason for low incomes in Lebanese Muslim households is lack of employment,” the report, Lebanese Muslims in Australia and Social Disadvantage, said.

Taking men aged 25-64 as a group, 47 per cent of Lebanese Muslims were either unemployed or not in the workforce, compared to 28 per cent of Lebanese Christians and 21 per cent of all men in this age group.

“Overall, Lebanese Muslim households tend to be relatively large, poor and disconnected from paid work,” the report said. “Given the times, the situation is not promising.”

Dr Katharine Betts, an associate professor of sociology at Swinburne University of Technology, said that she and co-author Ernest Healy had been interested in the socio-economic background of people involved in the Cronulla riots and revenge attacks in December last year.

“Everyone was saying this was stemming from social disadvantage and alienation,” Dr Betts said.

However, she said, existing data available on Lebanese migrants showed they were doing quite well.

“We wondered whether there was a big difference between Lebanese Muslims and Lebanese Christians and that’s why we decided to explore this question,” Dr Betts said.

The research found that while Lebanese Christians had prospered and integrated well, Lebanese Muslims were in difficulty and clearly worse off.

Dr Betts said the research did not examine why this was the case. However she suggested that, while Lebanese Christians began migrating to Australia in the late 19th century, Lebanese Muslims did not arrive until after 1975, when they were displaced by the Lebanese civil war.

“As well as all the stresses and deprivations that refugees face with uprooted lives, Lebanese Muslims did not have the church and community groups that had been established by earlier waves of Lebanese Christians,” Dr Betts said. “I think that would be a line worth exploring if we want to explain why Lebanese Muslims are more socially disadvantaged.”

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