South Sudanese Culture

South Sudanese in Australia


According to the 2016 Australian Housing and Population Census, 7,699 Australian residents were born in South Sudan.1 However, this census data does not necessarily reflect their true community affiliations. As South Sudan was only formed in 2011, the majority of people who identify as South Sudanese were technically born in the ‘Republic of Sudan’. Hence, they list “Republic of Sudan” as their birthplace and consequently get categorised as (North) Sudanese. Community leaders estimate that in actuality over 20,000 people identify as South Sudanese in Australia. This is supported by the fact that the majority of people in Australia reported to be from North Sudan (which is predominantly Muslim) are Christian.


The majority (over 65%) of the South Sudan-born population arrived in Australia between 2001 and 2006.2 Most arrived from Egypt, Kenya, Uganda and Ethiopia after living in refugee camps in these countries, having fled drought, famine and war in South Sudan. Some may have had no employment history in skilled jobs outside of agriculture, and may also be illiterate. This being said, individual education and skill levels vary depending on many people’s experiences of displacement. For example, some may have had the opportunity to learn how to write and speak English whilst in a transit country.


Experience in Australia

Local community leaders have worked hard to leave divisive tribal politics behind, meaning that the South Sudanese communities are generally very supportive of one another and united. However, South Sudanese refugees face particularly difficult settlement challenges that many other migrant and refugee groups do not encounter. Families may struggle to adjust to the social structure of Australia, as many challenge traditional Sudanese family roles (see the Family section for more information). In addition to this adjustment, some may experience mental health issues related to violent trauma in South Sudan.


The South Sudanese communities are also often the target of intolerance and hostility in Australia. Media reporting commonly portrays them as ‘bad refugees’ for the struggles they face acculturating into society and the actions of a small minority.3 This has led to a low level of trust among the community that can be particularly hard for adolescents. They are often discriminated against in housing, employment and educational opportunities. According to a 2015 report, 77% of South Sudanese respondents had experienced discrimination in the past 12 months – often in contact with authority figures, finding accommodation and employment.4  


Some South Sudanese have described adapting to Australia as ‘walking the line’ whereby they have to navigate an unclear path, continuously struggling to gauge the expectations held of them in Australian culture whilst trying to maintain their customs and values.5 For some, the pressure of having an institutional power (i.e. the government) supervising their difficult process of acculturation is particularly challenging due to previous experiences of government domination and preferred community autonomy (see History of Conflict and Community Interdependence and Privacy in Core Concepts). Some report feeling interrogated by Australian culture and systems. One poll found only 26% of South Sudanese people report trust in the Australian Police Force.6


Nevertheless, despite any perceived discrimination, the majority of South Sudanese migrants report satisfaction with their lives in Australia.7 The vast majority speak English well or very well. Most have also sought to educate themselves if they had not received a formal education already. It is common for people to seek training to fill professions that had an undersupply in South Sudan, such as doctors, lawyers and political scientists. For many, the suffering of their people and country has motivated them to make positive contributions to their community.



1 Department of Home Affairs, 2018
2 Department of Home Affairs, 2018
3 Refugee Council of Australia, 2016
4 Markus, 2015
5 Marlowe, 2012
6 Fitton, 2016
7 Markus, 2015

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