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Official Figures Show 1 in 4 Australians Born Overseas


New figures show that almost a quarter of all Australians were born overseas, the highest proportion in more than a century. Migrants from Britain make up the largest group, followed by incomers from New Zealand, Italy and China. Australia has also seen a sharp rise in the number of refugees arriving from Iraq and Afghanistan.

For more than two centuries, waves of immigrants have been washing up onto Australia's far-flung shores. Official figures now show that one in four Australians was born somewhere else.

This huge foreign legion includes migrants from Britain, Italy and New Zealand. Half of Australia's foreign-born population, in fact, is from Europe, but this figure is rapidly declining as migration from other regions - including Asia and the Middle East - increases.

Peter Xue, who is originally from China and now works as a real estate agent in Sydney, has no regrets about moving to multicultural Australia.

"Not many countries can have so many people from different countries living altogether as a society and making the Australia economy going better and better, which is a very good thing to see," he said.

Still, there are levels of uneasiness among immigrants. Ayse, a 29-year-old student who arrived from Turkey in 1999, would only give her first name - but she believes her new home is a land of opportunity.

"It is very good," Ayse said. "I like [being] here better than my country, more freedom and more advantages. I can do here whatever I want."

Immigration is tightly controlled by the government in Canberra. Migrants usually enter the country through family reunion schemes or because of their skills.

This year more than 130,000 immigrants will be allowed to settle in Australia.

On top of that, around 13,000 refugees are welcomed under official humanitarian programs.

This has resulted in a growing number of refugees from Sudan, Iraq and Afghanistan entering the country.

For some - like Falem from Baghdad, who has been here for seven years - life in the suburbs of Sydney is not always easy. He perhaps had a more current reason for refusing to give his family name.

"Since 11th of September everything changed and we feel like we are isolated," said Falem. "When you say you are from Iraq, Arab, Middle East - ah! Everyone is scared of you."

Some native Australians feel uncomfortable at current levels of immigration, although any racial antagonism that might exist doesn't appear to have affected social harmony. And the immigrants fill an important need, for more workers: the government has insisted that a chronic labor shortage is threatening to stifle economic growth.