Much of the literature highlights that members of the refugee community require a more comprehensive social support system, often articulated as a desire for a ‘peer support network’, to discuss their shared experiences.
With new arrivals spending much of their energy to address basic and immediate concerns – securing employment and housing, learning English and the like – there is often little time left to help other refugees and foster a strong and cohesive community. Members of the refugee community have expressed disappointment that the African norms of shared living and reciprocity have eroded in resettlement, even though their cultures lend themselves to neighbourliness and reciprocity.264
In their new society, refugees work to create a new concept of ‘home’ – where they and their families feel safe, where their rights are respected, and opportunities to achieve and contribute to society are open to everyone.265
24.2A community of support
The literature indicates a strong desire among refugees to create a broad community of support and establish an identity that celebrates both their individual cultures and the shared experience of being a refugee. While refugee services may have a specific goal – such as providing medical, housing or employment support – they must also seek to help refugees rebuild trust, a sense of identity and self esteem, establish social networks and foster hope and a sense of purpose.266 Services must necessarily be geared towards encouraging this sense of community, which will also make their own services more valuable to clients. There is an overall need for representation, participation, accessibility and equality of outcome.267
Many Africans can feel disconnected, dislocated and alienated from Australian society when they arrive. It can be difficult for them to adapt to mainstream Australian values and norms. Even when they display a keen desire to learn about Australian society and culture, there are often few opportunities to do so. Support is needed to help them successfully integrate into the broader Australian community.268
“Because this is slow work with a particularly damaged community, it is important to be realistic about the measurement of success and sustainability.”269 Social workers, or indeed anyone working with refugee communities, need to facilitate “interactions that break down social isolation and allow sharing of information, resources and the transfer of knowledge and skills.”270 Once these spaces – both literal and figurative – are created then networks can grow and thrive.
While there are similarities among Africans, there are also significant differences. Diversity among Africans has not always been recognised. In fact, Africans have often been identified as a single community. However, there are many communities that have come from different countries on the African continent. As a result, African communities cannot always communicate with other African communities because they might not have a common language. Reasons such as these can explain, in part, why much work is required to create social support groups.
24.3Youth peer mentoring
The literature highlights youth peer mentoring as a particular priority to help young refugees deal with the dual impacts of childhood or adolescence and their relocation to Australia.271Young refugees, more than others, are in need of a system to help them understand and navigate their new surroundings. Youth peer mentoring groups could help young refugees to understand that they are not the only ones going through this experience and that they do not need to do it alone. As an example, a school in Western Sydney put on a monthly lunch for African students.272 In addition to the peer support discussions, police officers and housing officials were brought in to provide information on public services. These sessions helped students understand the role that these people can play in their lives and the assistance that is available to them.
There appears to be a significant gap in current policy debates in Australia on social inclusion in terms of understanding how cultural and linguistic diversity can affect social inclusion or social exclusion. Experiences of migration can have a significant impact on whether particular communities and individuals feel socially included or excluded. The impact of government policy, particularly immigration and refugee policy, may also affect whether people from different cultural and linguistic communities feel included or excluded. For instance, research undertaken through the Scanlon Foundation has found that one in two people from non-English speaking backgrounds are likely to be subject to discrimination during their lifetime. 273
There is no agreed definition of social inclusion. ”Most current definitions dwell on intangibles, such as shared values, sense of belonging, attachment to the group, willingness to participate and to share outcomes.”274 Nevertheless, the Australian Government has sought to develop a vision around social inclusion and has identified a number of priority areas in which to focus its work on this agenda.275
The Australian Government’s vision of a socially inclusive society is one in which “all Australians feel valued and have the opportunity to participate fully in the life of our society.”
Achieving this vision means that all Australians will have the resources, opportunities and capability to:
work by participating in employment, in voluntary work and in family and caring
engage by connecting with people and using their local community’s resources
have a voice so that they can influence decisions that affect them.
A social inclusion framework therefore requires the need to explore opportunities and barriers to successful and meaningful participation in society. As a nation, the Australian-born population see themselves as a highly ‘cohesive’ society and most would place themselves at or near the top in terms of a sense of belonging and worth.276