Liberian refugees are in Australia as a consequence of an almost 20-year civil war that engulfed Liberia between 1980 and 2000 and resulted in destabilisation and human misery. Although a few Liberians came to Australia in the early 1990s, the majority of Liberian refugees arrived in 2004-2005.
This research project was initiated by LICAU-SED INC as part of its vision of a Liberian community integrated into Australian society and having opportunities to participate in and contribute fully to community life. The focus of the current project is the life chances and needs of older Liberians. This project provides a basis for the development of project and program initiatives to involve older Liberians more comprehensively in the community, and in so doing raise awareness about mental health problems associated with social marginalization.The literature review identified several studies on older Australians from migrant communities living in Melbourne.
Identifying older Liberians in Melbourne and Geelong proved a daunting task. However, eventually 41 older Liberians were identified, and 38 of these agreed to participate in the study. All respondents said they were physically safe, and had no problems with their built environment or using public transport. They reported their housing was comfortable, but had difficulty meeting housing costs, given their low socio-economic status and high level of unemployment. Importantly, all respondents were generally close to shopping centres, schools and medical services.
Most of the older women and about half the men reported being in “good health”, though many experienced chronic pain or mental health issues associated with pre-migration traumas.
There was relatively little involvement and participation of older Liberians in Liberian community organisations and groups, and indeed, in social and leisure activities in the community at large.
Participants in the discussion group were generally aware of the existence of social and leisure activities in the community, but believed that these activities were meant only for White Australians. This belief was generally based on the conspicuous absence of older African Australians from mainstream social and leisure activities. Further, participants believed that community services and supports were not available to them.
The case studies highlight challenges and expectations experienced in caring for older relatives in Liberian families, both in Australia and in Liberia.