Struggling in the surf: Australian beaches pose dangers to newcomers
Updated 0002 GMT (0802 HKT) March 25, 2018
(CNN)On a humid afternoon at a public swimming pool in northern Sydney, 18-year-old Tenzin Tsokney slides gingerly into the shallow end.
It's the first time he's set foot in water since he almost drowned when he fell into a pool four years ago, shortly after arriving in Australia as a Tibetan refugee who had been exiled in India.
"I've put off learning to swim ever since, even though my friends tease me," Tsokney told CNN.
He's not alone.
Newcomers like Tsokney represent up to 40% of drowning fatalities, which is higher than the estimated 28% of the population who are born overseas, according to data from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.
It's a matter of concern for Australia, which wants to halve the number of water deaths by 2020. However, despite a campaign launched in 2016 by the Australian Water Safety Council, the number of deaths has risen year-on-year since 2015, with 291 fatalities recorded last year.
'We're mountain people'
Tsokney was one of around 40 Tibetans taking part in lessons organized by not-for-profit organisation Water Skills for Life on a recent afternoon in the Sydney suburb of Dee Why, which is home to Australia's largest Tibetan population.
Tsokney said he mustered up the courage to learn because his friend, a fellow Tibetan called Tenzin Khenste Kyishi, is an instructor with the organisation.
"We're mountain people -- we don't know the ocean," said 18-year-old Kyishi, who himself learned to swim with Water Skills for Life five years ago.
That's in stark contrast to Australia, where most people live by the coast and sunny weekends are often spent swimming, surfing or sailing.
According to the president of the Tibetan Community of Australia (NSW) Tenzin Dhondup, as many as 90% of Tibetans who arrive in Australia are refugees and the vast majority of the estimated population of 900 cannot speak English, which is why having Tibetan instructors such as Kyishi is vital.
Water Skills for Life has distributed surf safety pamphlets in the Tibetan language and it also provides swimming classes for disadvantaged groups, including women living in local shelters.
The group's president Tanya Carmont said she's keen to offer classes to other migrant communities in the area, such as Filipinos and Samoans, but said sourcing volunteers and swimming facilities can be tough.