Nightingales in Terra Nova : a study of the immigration experiences of Iranian Baha'is in Sydney and Canberra from 1960 to 1998

Bluett, Margaret (2005) Nightingales in Terra Nova : a study of the immigration experiences of Iranian Baha'is in Sydney and Canberra from 1960 to 1998. PhD thesis, James Cook University.

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When the ‘White Australia’ immigration policy was finally dismantled in 1973 a door of opportunity opened for migrants from the Middle East seeking a refuge from war and social chaos. Among these migrants were several thousand Iranian Bahá’ís, members of a persecuted minority forced by the Islamic regime, established after the Iranian Revolution of 1979, to leave their homes. Some of these migrants or their relatives spent time in prison, suffered torture and saw their homes torched. The largest number became refugees forced to hire people smugglers to escape from Iran. These migrants were highly motivated to become effective settlers elsewhere because they could not return home. The changes in immigration policies, which occurred in Australia in the 1970s and early 1980s, developed a safe haven for the Iranian Bahá’ís. A special program established in the 1980s to assist refugees to migrate to Australia hastened their arrival and facilitated their settlement. The data for this oral history was obtained through interviews with eighty three Iranian Baha’is in 2003. The intention was to record the immigration experiences of the Iranian Bahá’ís from their perspective while the first generation was still alive. It also aimed to examine the reasons why they rapidly became successful settlers given that their country of origin had a very different culture to that of Australia. The study found that the central core of their faith, that humanity is one and the world is one country, helped them to achieve successful long-term settlement. The other factor that assisted their settlement process was the presence of a well-established Bahá’í community in Australia. There was a small number of Iranian Bahá’ís already in Australia, before 1979, and they provided the links that began a chain migration of skilled migrants. However the refugee assistance program enabled many more migrants than would have been expected through the traditional channels of chain migration. The Bahá’í community provided the migrants with a social network and an acceptable identity in their host society. The immigration process was furthered by the family reunion policy and migrants who had family with them made the smoothest transition to Australian society. Women in the group with the opportunity of individual autonomy Australian society provided took maximum advantage of the freedoms it offered such as freedom to work outside the home and to seek further education. They were also free to craft an individual life style that included issues such as clothing and gender relationships. Problems encountered in Australia were non-recognition of professional qualifications and some discrimination based on language or colour. The study focused on settlement at an individual and community level and measured settlement success through issues such as employment levels and location. The findings of the study demonstrated that a multicultural policy enables migrants to feel valued in their host society. A humanitarian immigration policy is beneficial to a host society because it facilitates settlement for people driven out of their homes by war and persecution and pulls migrants who have the strongest motivation to become successful settlers because they cannot go home. The study also demonstrated that a migrant group with a dual identity, that is both a religious and ethnic identity, and one not considered mainstream in Australia, are not necessarily the harbingers of social disorder and can be an asset to their host society.

Item ID: 1787
Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Keywords: Australia, Baha'i, migrants, 'White Australia', immigration policy, settlement, Iran, Persia, refugees, Islam, Moslem, gender, women, generations, families
Date Deposited: 11 Dec 2007
FoR Codes: 16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1603 Demography > 160303 Migration @ 0%
20 LANGUAGE, COMMUNICATION AND CULTURE > 2002 Cultural Studies > 200209 Multicultural, Intercultural and Cross-cultural Studies @ 0%
16 STUDIES IN HUMAN SOCIETY > 1608 Sociology > 160803 Race and Ethnic Relations @ 0%
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