Refugees are not always able to return home in safety or to remain in the country where they first received asylum. There are situations where resettlement to a third country is the only safe and durable solution.8
Resettlement is the transfer of refugees, who have provisional protection, from the first country of asylum to another country where they can start a new life and find permanent protection. The UNHCR estimates that in 2010 alone, of approximately 10 million refugees worldwide, some 203,000 refugees will be in need of resettlement. In 2008 countries around the world offered to resettle some 65,000 refugees.
There is no agreed time limit by which resettlement should occur and no agreement on the extent to which refugees should be expected to assimilate – rather than integrate – with their host society. Some models of resettlement have a psychological and individual/family focus; others recognise that resettlement is a two-way process involving the policies and responses of the host community. Most models acknowledge the importance of supporting refugees to maintain their cultural identity, as well as to acculturate to the host society.
local integration: in the refugee context is a dynamic and multifaceted two-way process, which requires efforts by all parties concerned, including a preparedness on the part of refugees to adapt to the host society without having to forego their own cultural identity, and a corresponding readiness on the part of host communities and public institutions to welcome refugees and to meet the needs of a diverse population.
UNHCR Executive Committee Conclusion on Local Integration No.104
The UNHCR views integration as a two-way process but stresses that it is the host State that must take the lead role. It also notes that communication about expectations for integration is an important component. The organisation defines integration as having three key elements:
According to the UNHCR, the host State must support all three aspects to achieve successful integration. Some of the indicators it has developed to assess the success of efforts to integrate refugees include:
the newcomer speaks one or more of the country’s official languages
the newcomer has found employment
the newcomer has adapted to the culture of the host country
the newcomer is participating in civic life.
The aim of a social inclusion strategy is to develop comprehensive policies to support an individual to become an integrated member of society.9
While ‘integration’ has connotations of assimilation, the term is used in this literature review to mean “the ability to participate fully in economic, social, cultural and political activities, without having to relinquish one’s own distinct ethno cultural identity and culture. It is at the same time a process by which settling persons become part of the social, institutional and cultural fabric of a society.”10
Integration into Australian life requires a balancing of family, cultural and national traditions with the realities of life in Australian cities and towns.11 A recent research paper by Haileluel Gebre-Selassie, as part of a scholarship granted by the Winston Churchill Memorial Trust, explored and documented projects and programs that contribute to integration strategies for migrants and refugees in New Zealand, the United States, Canada, the United Kingdom, Germany and Israel.12 The author suggests that government departments and non-government organisations tend to emphasise settlement services and give less priority to ongoing integration support:
Better integration of refugees and migrants is critical to the long-term interests of both the host community and migrant communities. Australia is one of the world’s leaders in allocating resources and effort to settlement services for migrants and refugees. However, the efficiency of the settlement program and the integration component of the settlement process require further improvement in order to achieve better outcomes.13
The study identifies that governments and host societies must demonstrate a high level of commitment to, and investment in, the integration of migrants and refugees, as the development of an inclusive and welcoming society is a key pre-requisite to the successful integration of migrants and refugees. Proactive government policies and programs are critical to better integration, it says.
DIAC assists refugees and humanitarian entrants with a range of settlement support services that are focused on building self-sufficiency, developing English language skills and facilitating connections with mainstream services to help them settle in Australia and become contributing members of the community as soon as possible.
Minister for Immigration and Citizenship, Senator Chris Evans, July 2009
Settlement services are undoubtedly critical to the process of successfully integrating newly-arrived communities.14 Australia’s settlement services for refugees and migrants have evolved over the last 60 years from the provision of basic accommodation and assistance on arrival to more intensive support programs that aim to meet the specific needs of humanitarian entrants.15
While Australia’s settlement services are advanced by world standards, there is broad agreement that improvements can and should be made.16 Changing demographics in newly-arrived communities inevitably requires a thorough review of the planning and delivery of settlement services.
Impact of increased African intake
Given the changing profile of people entering Australia through the Humanitarian Program, government policies and programs should be flexible enough to adapt to the differing needs of each intake.
In 2006–07 Australia granted just over half of that year’s allocation of offshore humanitarian visas to Africans, many of whom were resettled in areas where the numbers of African refugees had increased from nothing to several hundred in the space of only two or three years. Previously Australia’s humanitarian intake was primarily from Europe and the Middle East.
The sharp increase in the numbers of humanitarian entrants arriving from Africa raised serious questions about the appropriateness and adequacy of settlement services to these newly-arrived communities.
Refugee advocates and others expressed concern that Australia was not adequately prepared to cope with the special needs of African refugees, who commonly arrived with poor education, poor health, poor language skills and a history of brutalisation and trauma from years of civil wars and experiences in refugee camps.17
Settlement service agencies were also aware that newly-arrived humanitarian entrants from Africa were experiencing significant barriers to successful settlement.18
In 2007 the African Australian Think Tank hosted a national conference, Walking together at same speed: A forum to dialogue ... a cultural journey, which discussed the settlement needs of African families and single people from a diverse range of countries and backgrounds and their integration into Australia’s broader multicultural society.19
The conference identified a number of challenges in the development and provision of settlement services, many of which are echoed in previous reports and research studies.
Key challengesin settlement services
The arrival of new African refugee communities presents very specific and unique issues that service providers and government agencies must attempt to address in order to support their successful settlement and integration.
Overall, the literature identifies the following key challenges in planning and delivering settlement services to newly-arrived African Australians.
The recent large and rapid influx of African refugees did not allow programs, designed for small groups, to adjust quickly enough.
The programs were not dynamic enough to adjust to the different needs of a new community, and that:
service providers did not anticipate the need to adjust program strategies for the different cultural backgrounds of participants
service providers did not understand the African context and cultures well enough to structure necessary adjustments.
A critical message that emerges is that Australia “cannot simply repeat methodologies that worked for the resettlement of European migrants in the 1950s to 1970s, or of Indo-Chinese in the 1970s and 1980s. African communities need new responses.”20
Apart from their different cultural backgrounds, some refugees also carry experiences of personal trauma and many years of hardship in refugee camps.21 “This case load often has larger families, with higher levels of poverty, lower levels of education and English proficiency and more serious physical and mental health issues compared to earlier cohorts.”22
Another key challenge lies in the diverse backgrounds and needs of newly-arrived African Australians. Many different languages may be spoken by people from the one country, while culture, customs and education levels differ widely according to the country, region, ethnic group and social class from which a person comes.23
To avoid stereotyping and misconceptions, service providers must avoid the tendency to hold to a single idea of who is a ‘refugee’.24 A rigid understanding can mean that they see the individuals they assist as being firstly and only refugees, ignoring all other aspects of their cultural and personal identities.
Furthermore, designing programs and treating refugee communities based on the assumption that all refugees are alike does not allow services to take account of the differing needs and desires of people from different cultures or backgrounds. The reality is that often the only thing that refugees, as a group, have in common is the loss of home and country, coupled with the high likelihood of trauma and sudden cultural transitions.
There are also specific issues of concern for African refugees settling in regional areas of Australia, including isolation, poverty and vilification.25
Recent research has highlighted the lack of newly-arrived refugees in management positions in the settlement services sector. This deprives them of the opportunity to share practical experiences and ideas to better support other refugees and to gain skills in learning how to manage their community associations. In fact some migrant agencies which deliver services to newly-arrived communities do not even involve newly-arrived refugees on their management boards.26
It is evident that the knowledge and experience of service providers in dealing with the many and complex issues of African Australian clients has increased considerably in recent times. In addition, the Australian Government has made some progress in acknowledging the specific settlement difficulties faced by humanitarian entrants from Africa.
Many settlement agencies have actively responded to the needs of African humanitarian entrants and/or addressed service gaps identified by communities and advocates. Some have established new programs to meet the needs of African humanitarian clients, while others have identified existing specialist and mainstream programs that could be better utilised.27
The Australian Government has recently undertaken an extensive review of its settlement programs, which has resulted in improvements to service delivery through its Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy and Settlement Grants Program. It has also responded to the need to provide more intensive and prolonged assistance to clients through the introduction of the Complex Case Support program.
However, there continues to be a need for both government and non-government agencies to improve data collection; to increase the cultural competency of staff; to review and adapt programs to meet the needs of a diverse client base; and to better coordinate services delivered to humanitarian entrants.
There is also a need to incorporate a ‘strengths-based’ approach in the design and delivery of services, which recognises and builds on the skills and experiences of the client, as opposed to a ‘deficit’ model, which treats the client as a victim and fails to recognise the vast range of skills they have amassed in order to survive and cope with many challenging life experiences.
In a recent Phd thesis28, Hiruy suggests that current discourse on refugee resettlement in popular media, academia and among host communities “lacks veracity”. The author argues that established resettlement planning practices are mainly based on “practical resettlement” and calls for a greater focus on the perspectives of settlers’. In the case of African refugees in Hobart, who were interviewed for the study, this means recognising the central importance of social, cultural and emotional factors in successful settlement and belonging.
Furthermore, it is important to note that “despite experiences of persecution, violence, forced migration, loss of family, home and cultural identity, many refugees from the HoA [Horn of Africa] are settling successfully and working not only for themselves, but to assist their communities both here and in Africa.”29