Refugees Rejuvenating and Connecting Communities

An analysis of the social, cultural and economic contributions of Hazara humanitarian migrants in the Port Adelaide-Enfield area of Adelaide, South Australia.

1. Introduction

This report investigates a study of one refugee-background community, Hazara Afghans, and looks at the ways the Hazara contribute to, and have become a part of the Port Adelaide Enfield area in Adelaide, South Australia. Port Adelaide Enfield has one of the largest non-English-speaking background populations and one of the largest Indigenous populations in Adelaide.

This research project included observing the Hazara Afghan community in location and interviews with Hazara and non-Hazara residents. This report understands that living and engaging in a community is not just about how migrants bring economic benefit to local communities but needs to look at their social, cultural and economic contributions.

There are a number of key themes that resonate throughout the report.

  1. An individual engages or contributes to the local community in which they live in ‘visible’ and ‘invisible’ ways.
  2. There are individuals and organisations who have the capacity to be social connectors, to bridge between communities.
  3. Refugee-background migrants arrive with assets, abilities, knowledge and experiences to contribute to the communities they live in, and many proactively find ways to do so.
  4. There is a tension for refugee communities who wish to simultaneously strengthen, support and contribute to the development of their own communities or co-ethnic bonds, while strengthening, supporting and contributing to the local (and national) communities they are now a part of.

2. Background: Port Adelaide
and the Hazara diaspora

Historical background of Port Adelaide Enfield

Port Adelaide was of great importance to the new South Australian colony, as the port played a key role in trade and served as the entry point for new settlers. In 1836 the first migrant ships from England started their journey to South Australia, and in November the first settlers reached Holdfast Bay.

With shipping as the main form of transportation for many decades, Port Adelaide was a lifeline for the South Australian colony. The port became a hub for shipping, industry and transportation, and served as the main entrance point for immigrants and supplies, with mining and agricultural products as the main exports.

Migration from various nations played an essential role in the new South Australian colony since the arrival of the first settlers. Australia was a country of immigrants for most of the nineteenth century and even by 1901, most of the population had been born overseas, mostly in the British Isles.

Migrants arrived on assisted passages or for free, paid for by the South Australian government or via private sponsorship schemes. Added to the numbers of those who arrived as ‘regular’ migrants were those, both British and non-British, who jumped ship in Port Adelaide.

Three of the most important non-British immigrant groups for South Australia were the Germans, Chinese and Afghans. Most important for this report are the Afghans, who first arrived in South Australian in 1865; in the outback, the ‘Afghan cameleers’ found employment in the transportation of goods

Following Federation and the passing of the Immigration Restriction Act in 1901, the Afghans, together with Aboriginal Australians and other ‘aliens’, were denied citizenship and experienced discrimination and marginalisation.

At the time of the First World War, the camels of the Afghan cameleers were replaced with motorised vehicles which meant that ‘there was little place or purpose remaining for these strange animals and the cultural differences of their nomadic handlers within the increasingly settled geography and the closing social space of the new nation’.

Today, the population of the City of Port Adelaide Enfield is one of the most culturally diverse in South Australia

The council is a Refugee Welcome Zone.

The Hazara community:
Afghanistan and diaspora

The Hazara Afghans are one of the migrant communities that have settled in the Port Adelaide Enfield Council area over the last two decades. The Hazara are one of the three largest ethnic groups within Afghanistan: the Pashtuns (42 per cent), the Tajiks (25 to 30 per cent) and the Hazara (10 per cent).

The Hazara are distinguished by their physical appearance, dialect, territory, religion and social status. The Hazara are of Mongolian descent and their Central Asian features typically include a ‘relatively flat nose, broader face and narrower eyes’ which makes them easily distinguishable from other Afghan ethnic groups.

In the present day, the majority of the Hazara are from the Shi’a branch of Islam. A smaller number of Hazara, together with about 80 per cent of Afghanistan’s population, follow Sunni Islam (Saikal 2012). The Hazara’s traditional land is the Hazarajat in central Afghanistan, where the Taliban destroyed the statues of Buddha in Bamiyan province in 2001 (Saikal 2012).

The Hazara speak Hazaragi, a dialect of Farsi (similar to the language spoken in Iran) with Turko-Mongolic vocabulary.

Persecution, Marginalisation & Disadvantage

Over the last two centuries, the Hazara have experienced frequent persecution, marginalisation and disadvantage.

1890 to 1893

During this war, the Hazarajat was brought under the administrative and political control of the Afghan state to achieve a unified Afghanistan. This war was described as the most significant example of genocide in the modern history of Afghanistan. At the end of the war, Hazara territories were given away, which caused the expulsion of about 400,000 Hazara from the land  between 1893-1904, while others became enslaved. 

1996 to 2001

A second significant period of persecution of the Hazara occurred under the Taliban regime. The Hazara were described as the ‘main losers’ under the Taliban, with up to 15,000 Hazara killed by the Taliban. The persecution of the Hazara under the Taliban regime ‘caused the largest exodus of Hazara refugees around [the] world’.

Afghan refugees have continued to constitute a significant refugee population since the 1980s, and in 2018 they were the second largest group by country of origin at 2.7 million.

The Hazara community:
Port Adelaide Enfield

The following draws data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics’ (ABS) Census of Population and Housing from 2006, 2011 and 2016 to provide further insight into the Hazara community in Port Adelaide Enfield.

It must be noted that the ABS census data captures the broader category of ‘Afghan-born’ persons, which does not allow for a narrower focus on the Hazara community. Not all Afghan-born persons identify as ethnic Hazara, although the data indicate that the Hazara make up a significant majority of Afghan-born persons and therefore, while not perfect, the data do provide a good snapshot of the Hazara community in the Port Adelaide Enfield LGA. The focus is on the Enfield and Blair Athol statistical area level 2 (SA2) within the Port Adelaide Enfield LGA, where most of the participants for this project resided.

According to the last census, there were 6313 Afghan-born people living in South Australia in 2016 and, out of those, nearly one third (1885) resided in the Port Adelaide Enfield LGA (Table below). Between 2006 and 2016 the number of Afghan-born people living in this area has more than tripled.

The table below compares data on the Afghan-born population across the top 10 local government areas in Adelaide from 2006 to 2016, consistently shows Port Adelaide Enfield having a significant proportion of Afghan-born migrants as residents.

The figure below shows the age-sex composition of our study population in the Enfield-Blair Athol area from 2006 to 2016. Is it clear that males are over-represented, which could reflect the general asylum seeker profile where there are generally more males.

In this period, the increase in males particularly in the age groups of 20–29 and 30–39 has been significant – and this could well explain the employment and labour force data later discussed which show a concentration of Afghan-born persons working in construction and other labour-intensive occupations/industries.

The majority of the Afghan-born population in Enfield-Blair Athol identified as ‘Afghan’ (60.2%) followed by 31.1 per cent who identified as ‘Hazara’, as shown in Table 3 below.

Concluding Comments

While migration from various nations has played a key role from the early days of white settlement, it is clear that this has been accompanied by the exclusion of those perceived as ‘other’, evident in the treatment of Aboriginal Australians and the Afghan cameleers. Over the two previous decades, the Hazara have been one of the more recent migrant communities who have settled in Port Adelaide Enfield. The experiences of persecution of the Hazara in Afghanistan and the precarious nature of their lives in Pakistan and Iran means that settlement in Port Adelaide Enfield provides the Hazara with the opportunity to build new lives for their families and community.

3. Community support organisations and the building of social capital

The Hazara community members we interviewed all shared a motivation to build a new life, to find work and become self-reliant, and to give back to their communities. However, the initial resettlement period was often challenging, with many experiencing social isolation due to significant language barriers and limited social networks and work experience.

Community organisations in the Port Adelaide Enfield Council area play a vital role in building social and community infrastructure to support the settlement of many migrants, including refugees. These organisations connect communities to wider society and services, providing spaces of belonging and safety, and providing culturally and linguistically appropriate services and language support, which is critical to navigating the settlement process. Our research indicates that these organisations help in two ways:

  1. Translating and filtering knowledge around Australian culture(s) and government systems for new arrival communities. Consequently, they play a critical though potentially under-acknowledged role in the government (local, state and national) social inclusion and resettlement agenda.
  2. Providing access to knowledge and expertise from cultural and linguistic specific communities who have accessed and benefitted from the support provided by the organisation in the past. People who are recipients of these services often go on to volunteer their time, sharing their knowledge and experience with new arrivals and thereby developing a self-renewing system of support.

Community Centres And Volunteerism

The community members we interviewed who accessed the community centres described their services as some of the most important supports for them when they first arrived. The centres provided language support and social networking, and built their confidence to interact beyond their immediate family and community contexts.

One interviewee described how the community centre(s) became a vital part of his settlement experience because for a long time his only networks were non-Hazara people who worked at the community organisation as well as his schoolteachers.

Those who benefited from these services often went on to volunteer their time as interpreters and translators for other community members.

One interviewee said she enjoys volunteering because she feels she can identify with similar challenges as newer arrivals and is therefore able to apply knowledge and skills from her experiences to help others overcome the challenges associated with resettlement.

Interviewees described that the combination of housing support, employment and engagement opportunities enabled them to develop a sense of belonging in their local community. However, finding appropriate employment continued to be a challenge and interviewees experienced labour market discrimination.

Systemic discrimination in the mainstream job market means many have no choice but to take on insecure and underpaid work.

These findings highlight the continual need to examine the disadvantages and inequalities that complicate the idea of coming together as a ‘community’. Hazara interviewees described that they felt a strong sense of belonging in particular places (like school or their local community organisation or mosque), while also feeling ‘out of place’ in others (like the local employment market).

Temporal dynamics of resettlement: Building and expanding networks

Many of the longer-term residents and support workers within community organisations (both Hazara and non-Hazara) suggested that there is a tendency for the Hazara community to live in a ‘bubble’ and not interact outside the Hazara community.

However, there was contestation about whether the lack of interaction amongst diverse community members was necessarily detrimental to developing a sense of belonging.


Drawing on the experiences of Hazara interviewees who were connected to a community centre, a member of their own community or a local service provider was most frequently the principal starting point for building their networks.


Later in their resettlement journeys they often acted as connectors for others within their community.

This highlights the importance of existing capacities and knowledge within their own community, and that support is not only offered by external settlement services or Australian-born community members.

One Hazara participant suggested that part of the hesitance to interact beyond their community may be the fear of losing their sense of identity in the process of learning a new culture, and this finding was common throughout this research.

Concluding Comments

Community organisations and those who engage with their services as recipients and support workers provide a critical bridge between migrant groups and service providers. Community organisations can play an important role in supporting the resettlement of new arrivals when they:

  1. facilitate social connections and opportunities for community involvement;
  2. provide opportunities to learn about and connect people with local systems, cultural knowledge and support services; and
  3. offer programs to support language acquisition and preparedness for further education and employment.


Additional benefits arise when those who have previously accessed the support provided by the community organisation give back by volunteering their time and sharing their knowledge/experience, thereby strengthening community social capital.

This has multiple benefits and flow-on effects: it further fosters a sense of belonging and self-fulfilment for the volunteer; provides opportunities to further develop their leadership and communication skills; enhances the provision of culturally appropriate services, with volunteers acting as a bridge between those needing support and the support services themselves; and finally, provides often unacknowledged skills development and savings to wider society. Community organisations therefore complement and support formalised government support programs.

4. Sport creating a sense of
belonging and connection

Giving back to the community

In this case study we have identified the ways in which sport has supported the settlement of the Hazara in the local community, and also the ways in which this has benefited the broader community. A common refrain articulated by many Hazara participants was their desire to ‘give back’ to the community. The following describes our findings in relation to sport, drawing on both individual experiences and those of particular organisations that Hazara have started.

Hussain's Story

Hussain’s story is one example of a refugee benefiting from and contributing through sport.

Hussain, aged in his late 20s, presently works in the Port Adelaide-Enfield area.  Hussain came to Australia in the early 2000s as a fourteen-year-old. It was through sport in high school that Hussain was able to make friends with non-Hazara students. After high school Hussain and two Hazara friends went on to play cricket for a local, and then a district, cricket team.

Hussain gained some initial employment with the South Australian Cricket Association (SACA) and in that capacity promoted cricket more broadly in primary schools. As a SACA multicultural ambassador Hussain developed a successful cricket tournament involving diverse community groups. Hussain now works for a local Member of Parliament. It is an opportunity, Hussain said, to ‘give back to the community’ in lots of different ways including promoting business sponsorship of local sport in the community.

Hussain is one example of how the Hazara have engaged with both school and broader community sports. His story also reflects the everyday ways that many in the broader community support the Hazara community through providing opportunities for sports participation. 

The Ghan Kilburn City Football Club's Story

The Ghan Kilburn City Football [Soccer] Club (GKCFC) is an example of the importance of sport in the Hazara settlement experience in Port Adelaide Enfield.

The GKCFC was founded in 2002 by Rahim Shah Zahidi, also the owner of the nearby Ghan Kebab House restaurant, and is co-located and shares facilities with the Kilburn Football and Cricket Club. 

With players from a kaleidoscope of backgrounds, in the early days there were difficulties and tensions at times with some of the opposition players and clubs because of things like language, culture, or religion. A number of Indigenous players (male and female) play for GKCFC. Rahim and his family have been personally committed to supporting Indigenous participation in the soccer club.

Rahim sees the GKCFC as an important place to provide hope and opportunity for young people who face socioeconomic difficulties. It provides a social service for the community as an alternative to drugs and alcohol. He believes that football provides an opportunity for some Hazara to focus their minds on other things. The skills and experience of sport are very transferable, and this has had a positive impact on the mental and physical health of many Hazara facing precarious and uncertain circumstances.

Sport has strengthened the bonds, solidarity and identity of the Hazara community in the Kilburn-Blair Athol area, but also of the Hazara community across Australia.

Sport creates belonging and connection

Women in Sport

Children’s sport, including female participation, is an essential aspect of community life. It supports the growth, development and well-being of children but it is also an important way that families engage with and participate in community life.

Female participation is widening not only in community sports teams such as the GKCFC but also across other sporting codes such as volleyball and martial arts.

The Port Adelaide Enfield Council have been active supporters of the multicultural life of the area. One of the ways that they do this has been through the promotion of multicultural AFL sports events. The council wanted to engage with the multicultural community, especially the women, and teamed up with the Adelaide Crows AFLW (women’s) team to support this. The Hazara was one of the many community groups that participated in this family sporting event.

Cultural sporting hubs or mainstream sports?

 A Port Adelaide Enfield Council representative indicated that, from their perspective, there were still challenges in linking the Hazara in with the broader community with sport due to a combination of religious, cultural and generational factors.

One of the greatest challenges in Hazara participation in sports is the tendency for Hazara to join with and engage in sports with other Hazara rather joining in broader community or mainstream sports clubs.

The council representative referred to this tendency as a way of remaining in a cultural ‘comfort space’ and likened it to similar tendencies in the Indigenous community.

The council representative recognised and supported the need for different cultural groups to have a strong sense of ‘self’, a cultural and community identity, but also an equal need to find ways to bridge into what they referred to as the ‘mainstream’ community where all cultural groups come together.

Concluding Comments

The reflections in this chapter on the ways in which the Hazara have engaged in the sporting life of the local community have shown the multifaceted nature of this engagement. Training sportsmen and women, boys and girls, to gain national and international recognition is noteworthy, deserving of public recognition and support. They are the ‘stars’ as it were. But community sports participation is also about the everyday ways in which individuals and families participate in sport.

The Hazara, like all members of the community, live, work and seek to be involved in the everyday life of Kilburn-Blair Athol, and sports happens to be one way that this occurs. Most will not be superstars, like most who live in the broader community. Some volunteer in sports clubs and groups, like others in the broader community. Some do not, like others in the broader community. But in small and bigger ways the Hazara are contributing to the sporting and community life of Port Adelaide Enfield.

5. Education empowering
Hazara women and mothers

Hazara in Port Adelaide (and beyond) engage in education in various ways, including involvement in early childhood care, primary school, high school, and tertiary education. This case study sheds light on the enabling conditions that allow a public space (such as a community education centre) to make a difference in the lives of refugee women who arrived with poor English language skills and little education.

The findings in this chapter highlight how refugee mothers are empowered and, in turn, contribute to their families and community. It focuses on the transitioning experiences of Hazara women becoming members of the Port Adelaide-Enfield community, and how individuals can develop a sense of belonging locally and, more broadly, to the whole Australian community.

Impact of the community education centre

Education, along with the development of language skills, ‘is critical to preparing immigrants, and particularly their descendants to be more successful and more active participants in society’. These too are the aims of the non-Hazara people working in the community education centre as they seek to reach out to refugee and migrant mothers who enter their doors. The community education centre provides a safe haven to the refugee mothers and their children, supports the mothers in developing a sense of belonging in Australia, and helps address the challenges associated with refugee resettlement.

"… we have women who lack a lot of confidence and to just see their kind of change over time and … quite a few of them have the confidence to go into TAFE … it is a whole different transition, which then enables them to have greater confidence in language and even, probably kind of Australian cultural awareness…"


"… we say the things you are learning from here – pass it onto your husband, and teach your husband, because we are growing up in different country, different environment, different rules … for me, …we have to empower the mothers."


"Whenever I had question, I need help, she was there for me and if she couldn’t, she would find someone else to help me, whatever it was. … Now I can work, and I can look after my son. "


Concluding Comments

This study of an educative approach that respects diversity adopted an ecological lens to look at the enabling conditions which promote opportunities for migrant and refugee mothers and children to experience social inclusion and participation. This case study of a respectful space between the home and the local community has offered an account of how the educative work of a community education centre can empower newly arrived migrant and refugee mothers.

6. Economic contributions
of the Hazara

The story of a highly entrepreneurial Hazara business community in the Port Adelaide Enfield Council area is not only about that commonly used economic narrative, but it is also a story of community assets, strengths, capacity building and ‘place activation’. It is a story about a complex landscape which includes Hazara civic and political engagement, which has been created over the last 15 years.

Currently, the Port Adelaide area can be characterised as a neighbourhood with a high ethnic concentration of Hazara-owned businesses as well as an area of ethnic residential concentration. The Hazara have managed to develop a well-diversified, compatible and self-supported business system.

Hazara businesses tend to concentrate in a variety of enterprises such as bakeries, restaurants, carpet shops, serving their own or similar (e.g., South Asian) ethnic market, with a substantial number of employees in those firms being from the Hazara community.

As Hazara tend to cluster in close geographic spaces, they have developed migrant networks – systems of interpersonal relations through which participants can exchange valuable resources and knowledge. Our field work further shows that Hazara entrepreneurs use the network structure and are building local social capital through the mutual provision of advice and through acting as physical centres for the exchange of information.

Hazara businesses are increasingly getting involved in the building industry, heavily relying on co-ethnic subcontractors. It has even been observed that ‘they are all working, you know the majority of the, at the moment in South Australia of the building works industries, are actually controlled, acquired by the Afghan Hazaras’ (local non- Hazara participant).That ability to ‘break out’ of the ethnic enclave economy and ethnic niche should be an integral part of discussions of the future economic contribution of Hazara businesses.

While Hazara businesses initially clustered together, focusing exclusively on co-ethnic customers, they are now reaching the stage of expanding either geographically (by moving their businesses to inner city Adelaide), or by attracting more non-ethnic clientele. Moving towards ‘open market’ businesses may lead to a wider customer base, expanding Hazara entrepreneurship and building stronger ties with the broader society.

After more than a decade since the initial settlement, the Hazara ethnic enclave economy has created a vibrant, (multi)cultural hub on Prospect Road. According to the non-Hazara local stakeholders who reflected on the contribution of Hazara refugees, this area has become a popular and rich food destination: ‘they brought the food and people now – it becomes a destination’.

Considering the demographics of the Port Adelaide Enfield Council area, local government policies need to actively engage the Hazara and other local ethnic groups in community consultations about the design and future use of public spaces.

Concluding Comments

The Hazara local entrepreneurial ecosystem can be viewed metaphorically as a coral reef, which is self-sustained and organic, and was founded on community agency rather than council or government involvement in the early stage of settlement.

As the local Hazara business community is currently diversifying into other industries, and ‘breaking out’ into wider markets and non-ethnic clientele, it is expected that they will start engaging even more with non-Hazara stakeholders at the local and state levels.

At that point, we see the need for network brokers and opening up the framework for proactive engagement of new Hazara businesses by finding a synergy with mainstream businesses in the same sector, actively building new networks with the Australian business sector.

7. Report Conclusion

The metaphor of the coral reef as a kind of ecosystem is a helpful way to understand the Hazara contributions to the Port Adelaide-Enfield community from the holistic social, cultural and economic framework that we have sought to use.

The development of strong co-ethnic bonds by the Hazara appear to communicate that, like some coral, there is a hardness, self-sufficiency and impermeability about the Hazara’s relationship to their surroundings. But there is an interconnectedness to the life and health of the coral and the marine life around it. Just as the life and vitality of coral and marine life are interdependent, so too, our findings suggest, are humanitarian-background migrant communities and the local communities that they live amongst.

Far from a burden, threat or cost to the community, the Hazara have demonstrated that they give as well as receive.

Refugee-background migrants are not ‘forever victims’, nor are they ‘forever refugees’. Given the opportunity, the Hazara in this report arguably demonstrate that they desire to move beyond the ‘refugee’ category or ‘victim’ label. They are Hazara, but they also desire to be positively contributing members of the broader Australian community as ‘Australians’. The strength of their own identity and co-ethnic bonds provide the platform for the Hazara’s increasing involvement, connections, contributions, belonging and identification with their local community, and ultimately with the broader Australian community.

The Full Report

The Summary Report

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Hazaragi Summary Of Report

Research Authors

David Radford (University of South Australia – UniSA); Branka Krivokapic-skoko (Charles Sturt University); Heidi Hetz (UniSA); Hannah Soong (UniSA); Rosie Roberts (UniSA) ; George Tan (Charles Darwin University)

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