A demographic profile of the South Sudanese population

A demographic profile of the South Sudanese population

We received a question this week about how we display country-of-birth data for people from newly formed nations, such as South Sudan, and those that no longer exist, such as the former Yugoslavia. Glenn explains by examining the South Sudanese population of Australia.

Australia takes in a number of refugees from displaced populations around the world each year as part of the nation’s humanitarian migration stream, and this currently makes up around 8-10% of migration to Australia. The 2018-19 intake has been set at a minimum of 18,750 people.

Though they make up a relatively small percentage of total migration to Australia, this population does have quite different characteristics to the total population, and generally, need different services. For instance, they are more likely to be in family groups than skilled migrants, and are less likely to have a high rate of English proficiency.

From time to time we get requests from our clients to look at specific population groups, comprised of refugees. While the Census doesn’t ask about refugee status, the majority of migrants from specific countries are made up of refugees, unfortunately often related to where there are significant conflicts around the world.

A key group displaced by the Civil War in Sudan over the past decade or so has been the South Sudanese, though the focus in more recent years has been more on migrants from places like Bhutan and Myanmar.

This week, we received the following enquiry:

“We are planning to run a Family Skills Education Program for African families in Perth and we are also in Melbourne. I am having great difficulty finding the numbers for Sudanese and South Sudanese numbers in the Perth population. We know that, in the 2016 Census, most South Sudanese said they were born in Sudan, because South Sudan only became a country in 2011. When numbers of a group are very small, what happens to that data?”

This is a great question that goes to the heart of how we capture data for people from newly-formed nations.

South Sudan is the world’s newest widely recognised nation. It was formed out of part of Sudan in 2011. The ABS did create a category for South Sudan in both the 2011 and 2016 Censuses, so it is possible to get data for people who put ‘South Sudan’ as their country of birth in those Censuses.

It’s certainly the case that some people born in South Sudan may just put “Sudan” as their birthplace (as that’s the country that existed when they were born). We see the same thing with people marking “Yugoslavia” as their birthplace, which is a country that no longer exists. In the Census, people marking “Yugoslavia” are put in a category “South Eastern Europe not further defined”.

How many Australians were born in South Sudan?

The 2016 Census showed 7,697 people born in South Sudan counted in Australia on Census night, along with 17,029 from Sudan.

On .id’s community profiles, you can’t see South Sudan separately, as we combine it with Sudan for output purposes.

In 2011, when South Sudan had only just been recognised as a country, there were 3,486 people who marked their Birthplace as South Sudan, and another 19,370 responded with “Sudan”. So looking at Sudan from 2011-2016 shows a drop, while South Sudan doubled.

Combining data to enable time-series analysis

In all of our tools, we present data in a way that tells the story of a place, rather than presenting single pieces of ‘raw’ data in isolation. After all, a single figure, without context, doesn’t help you understand a population. For context, we benchmark data to other places and show how a demographic group are changing over time. To present this ‘time series’ analysis, the reference point must be consistent.

In the case of what we’ve seen above with the South Sudanese and Sudanese population, it’s unlikely that those born in Sudan have fallen in the Census period (some birthplaces do, but they tend to be much older communities such as Italians). More likely, some of those who responded “Sudan” in 2011 have now marked “South Sudan” as their country of birth. And this is the reason for combining the two, which overall shows an increase.

We make this time-series adjustment for a few different countries and languages so we can present comparable data over time. As South Sudan didn’t exist in the earlier years (remember has data for each Census year back to 1991 for most topics), we need to combine the two to show how the population has changed over time. This may change in the future as we get a longer time series for South Sudan.

So where has the South Sudanese population settled in Australia?

These numbers are still quite small in terms of total population, and even when combined didn’t grow a lot to 2016. Sudanese populations make up around 0.1% of Australia’s total population. But this does vary by area.

This is where they settled by state:

Birthplace (Sudan, South Sudan) by State/Territory of Usual Residence, 2016 Census

State/Territory Sudan South Sudan Total
New South Wales 5,095 974 6,070
Victoria 5,664 2,755 8,416
Queensland 2,370 1,426 3,795
South Australia 992 903 1,892
Western Australia 2,194 1,202 3,399
Tasmania 243 91 338
Northern Territory 148 134 282
Australian Capital Territory 307 218 524
Australia 17,029 7,697 24,722

Victoria has the largest number of both Sudanese and South Sudanese migrants. But WA has a high proportion for its population size. NSW has quite a lot of Sudanese, but very few South Sudanese.

At the Local Government level, these are the top areas for South Sudanese migration in Australia.

Local Government Area Born in South Sudan
Wyndham Vic 489
Ipswich Qld 481
Casey Vic 440
Melton Vic 357
Blacktown NSW 348
Brisbane Qld 346
Wanneroo WA 339
Playford SA 303
Brimbank Vic 291
Stirling WA 266

South Sudanese is also a recorded Ancestry for the 2016 Census, and a higher figure of 10,755 people Australia-wide nominated South Sudanese ancestry in the 2016 Census. Of course, this also includes children who were born in Australia, so it’s not surprising the Ancestry figure is higher.

Because they are in the Census, even with the limitations of response rates, it’s possible to look at the characteristics of South Sudanese compared to the total population. For instance, you can see from this chart, that those born in South Sudan are much younger than the general population of Australia. Fully half the population are aged under 18.

A demographic profile of the South Sudanese population

If you’re looking at data for New South Wales, they have the fantastic Multicultural NSW site, commissioned by that organisation and built by our team here at .id, which gives you the population distribution and characteristics for over 100 different Ancestry and Language groups across the state, including Sudanese and South Sudanese ancestry.

Check out the “Peoples of the Sudan” multicultural profile for NSW here.

We can profile the characteristics of South Sudanese, along with any other birthplace, on .id’s Communities of Interest module (where there is sufficient population). This helps you understand the changing characteristics of multicultural populations and their service needs. A great example of this is on the Blacktown City Council site. Contact us here if you work with a council who would like to have this module made available in your area.

There is also some settlement information since the Census available from the Department of Home Affairs. Unfortunately, with the decommissioning of the Settlement Arrivals database, the information which can be accessed is more limited than it used to be. But they do run some standard reports available here. This shows that in the previous (2018) calendar year, a total of 211 migrants settled in Australia from South Sudan, and another 348 from Sudan. This is much lower than the rates of a few years ago, and the majority of the migrants are now coming in through the family migration stream, rather than humanitarian (refugees). Iraq, Syria, Myanmar and the Democratic Republic of the Congo now make up the largest share of our humanitarian intake.

Glenn Capuano - Census Expert

Glenn is our resident Census expert. After ten years working at the ABS, Glenn's deep knowledge of the Census has been a crucial input in the development of our community profiles. These tools help everyday people uncover the rich and important stories about our communities that are often hidden deep in the Census data. Glenn is also our most prolific blogger - if you're reading this, you've just finished reading one of his blogs. Take a quick look at the front page of our blog and you'll no doubt find more of Glenn's latest work. As a client manager, Glenn travels the country giving sought-after briefings to councils and communities (these are also great opportunities for Glenn to tend to his rankings in Geolocation games such as Munzee and Geocaching).

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