The Spiritual Needs of Elderly Turkish People in Australia

Australia, and Victoria in particular, has a relatively large population of Turkish immigrants; and many of these people are now in their elderly years. In general, they are not highly educated, with only about eleven percent achieving a tertiary education. In the main, they are worshippers of Islam. Although, it is difficult to establish exact number it is thought that some two hundred thousand people living in Victoria would identify themselves as Turkish or from Turkish extraction. They are predominantly centred in the Hume City municipality of Melbourne.

The spiritual needs of elderly Turkish people in Australia are not being met by existing infrastructure. There are no Turkish aged care facilities and no Turkish hospices in Melbourne or Sydney. There are numerous Turkish associations and clubs, but these are all, in the main, small groups not representing those who identify with the Turkish culture as a whole. The Australian Multicultural Community Services group in association with the Victorian Government has produced a report into “The unmet welfare and health needs of the Turkish Community in Victoria”. This report does look into the spiritual needs of elderly Turkish people in Victoria and attempts to make practical suggestions to redress this situation.

This document and the “Aged care needs of Turkish speaking community” Cross – Cultural Training manual produced by the Australian Turkish Association both identify that elderly Turkish people are likely to be suspicious of non-Turkish welfare service providers and culturally prefer to keep everything in-house. Often their English language skills are poor and illiteracy rates are up around sixty percent of the total population; making it a major issue. Superannuation and the lack of it is another issue facing Turkish Australians of this generation. It is seen as the duty of the younger generation to care for the elderly and if this is breaking down in the later generations of migrant families in Australia, then it presents real problems for the elderly in these Turkish families.

If aged care facilities are to take in Turkish residents, then they will need to allocate separate prayer rooms for men and women. In addition, they must consider their specialty dietary requirements for Halal foods and facilitate the celebration of their religious festival days. Ramadan, the fasting month, will also need to be catered for. Organising supported travel to the local mosque will be another important requirement to meet the spiritual needs of ageing Turkish people in Australia. There are challenges ahead for this infrastructure to be amended to meet the specific needs of our Turkish Australians.