Almost half of the people who drown on Australia's beaches are migrants.
Researchers from the UNSW Sydney Beach Safety Research Group have studied the risk factors behind beach drownings among migrants from South Asia, prompted by the fact that 47 per cent of people who drowned at the beach from 2004 to 2021 were born overseas.
People born in India accounted for the highest proportion of migrants who drowned in Australia between 2009 and 2019.
An online survey completed by 249 people from India, Nepal, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Afghanistan, Bhutan and Pakistan, found almost half could not swim, but many still intended to go into the water when visiting beaches and many often went in fully clothed
More than half said they went for a dip at unpatrolled beaches, mostly as a family or group.
The study's lead author Mark Woods says beach safety education needs to be better targeted at migrant communities.
The study found those who had lived in Australia for shorter time periods were more likely to visit the beach but were much less likely to be able to swim or understand the meaning of flags on patrolled beaches.
They were also unlikely to be able to spot rips.
"The clear implication here is that new and recent migrants to Australia should be a central focus for learn-to-swim programs and beach safety education," Mr Woods said.
Study co-author Rob Brander said the study confirmed what he had learned from years researching beach safety in Australia.
"The standard beach safety messages we use, such as 'swim between the flags', may not resonate with new migrants," he said.
The study found more than a quarter (27 per cent) of respondents did not know or have a clear understanding of the red and yellow flags which indicate where it's patrolled and safe to swim.
Of those who were familiar with the flags' role, more than half (54 per cent) said they did not always swim between them, while 23 per cent said they rarely or never did.
"But it's not their fault they're not familiar with beach safety, whether it's through lack of English or lack of exposure to the things we take for granted growing up in Australia, like swimming lessons, the dangers of surf, and how to spot rips and how to cope if you're caught in one," Professor Brander said.
"They haven't been taught properly and now there's evidence to support the need to do more about this in their communities."
The researchers recommend translating beach safety information into the native languages of South Asian migrants.
Australian Associated Press
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