Terefe Aborete, managing director of the Horn of Africa Communities Network, photo: James Henry
When the Sudanese Australian woman first appears on screen, the elaborately carved silver armchair in which she is sitting demands attention. But then the woman’s leg begins to tremble, violently.
At the end of Refugee Week, you may think this is a video about the stresses of people who have escaped war or persecution and are contending with trauma and the high expectations of settling in a new country.
In a way, it is. The woman’s anxiety relates to gambling, but many attending the video launch in the City of Wyndham in Melbourne’s west believe the stresses experienced by refugees could have brought her to this point.
Research shows that while migrant communities are less likely to gamble than the general population, they can experience gambling harm at a higher rate. Other studies indicate an association between traumatic events and gambling harm. For refugees, the combined risk factors could be described as potent.
When expectations don’t match reality
Terefe Aborete, managing director of the Horn of Africa Communities Network, which produced the video, migrated from Ethiopia in 1995 and has empathetic insight. He says the low socio-economic status of refugees makes them vulnerable.
‘When their expectations are completely different from what they find, to fulfil those expectations, they try so many things, and one of the things they try is gambling.
‘Then, when one person in the community wins, that information goes through the community, because it is a very small one. And that encourages others to try.’
For refugees, the combined risk factors could be described as potent.
Created as part of a project funded by the Victorian Responsible Gambling Foundation, the video is one of four that raise awareness among refugee communities of the potential harm from gambling and how to access help if needed. The videos have been translated into seven languages – Amharic (spoken largely in Ethiopia), Chin and Karen (Myanmar), Dinka (South Sudan), Nuer (South Sudan and western Ethiopia), Somali and Sudanic Arabic.
When the final video finishes, the Myanmar and African community members at the launch nod or sit sombrely. They have seen a woman waiting for her husband to show up at his child’s birthday party, an empty fridge and a hungry child, a man turned away from his workplace, and another storming out of a card game. Each video ends with help being given through the community.
'They try so many things, and one of the things they try is gambling.'
Terefe Aborete, Horn of Africa Communities Network
Spending on pokies in Wyndham is the eighth highest in the state – with $267,839 gambled in the area every day. These are figures local councillor Josh Gilligan describes as ‘staggering’. The videos portray harm from pokies, as well as from card playing and lotteries.
Messages from community leaders carry an ‘honesty’
Terefe says the knowledge of community leaders is vital in shaping a response to gambling harm, and that when messages come from within the community, they carry an ‘honesty’ that is more appreciated and, ultimately, more effective.
Training community leaders is a significant part of the project.
‘Within these seven (language) groups,’ Terefe explains, ‘we have trained around 10 people from each community and we send them to educate their respective communities, formally and informally.
Since it began in 2016, the project has reached more than 1600 people through information sessions and forums.
Enjoying the land of hope, equipped with knowledge
Launching the videos, the Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation, Marlene Kairouz, recognised the need to address the shame and secrecy often attached to gambling harm.
‘Talking openly about gambling harm reduces the stigma and encourages those who may be too embarrassed or reluctant to ask for help, to get the support they need,’ she told the gathering.
Colourful outfits, warm smiles and generous sentiment followed the launch as people celebrated Refugee Week together, dancing and eating traditional food.
'Talking openly about gambling harm reduces the stigma.'
Marlene Kairouz, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Gaming and Liquor Regulation
Ethiopian-born Sisay Dinku, a commissioner with the Victorian Multicultural Commission, says sharing information about their new home is critical for the wellbeing of every migrant community.
‘This is the land of hope in a lot of ways and it’s important to navigate what information is around, so that many things can be achieved.’
The videos will be screened at local events and made available online.
If you are experiencing problems with gambling, or someone close to you has a problem, call Gambler's Help on 1800 858 858. We can arrange an interpreter for free if you need one.
Find out more about getting help.