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Barriers to integration: Refugees in new countries

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  1. Background

1.1 Settlement of Refugees in Australia

Australia has been settling refugees for more than a century. As per official records, settlement history begins in 1839, marking the arrival of Lutherans. Nevertheless, Australia’s modern approach to refugee settlement began with a new national refugee policy in 1977. It has, now, become a designated resettlement country for refugees and it receives a designated number of refugees on annual basis as on the agreement with UNHCR. According to the best estimates available, 2009-10 was the year in which Australia, since becoming an independent nation, passed the 750,000 mark in its intake of refugees and humanitarian entrants.

In recent years, the incidents of persecution, conflict, generalized violence and human rights violation have significantly increased in Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, Syria, Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, and the border between Sudan and South Sudan. Surprisingly Australia has reduced its Refugee and Humanitarian Program to 13, 750 places while there is a considerable gap between resettlement needs and available places worldwide.

At this point, it is important to acknowledge current refugee settlement issues in Australia. In general, settlement issues fall into four main categories as follows:

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In addition to these main categories, if we go further deeper into the context, it is obvious to see another horizon of challenges fall into following areas:

  • Family and Youth
  • Legal and Financial
  • Community Relations

Securing a meaningful employment is a truly challenging task among refugees mainly because of their lack of knowledge about Australian work place culture, no prior work experience in Australia, inadequate services to support employment transitions, discrimination, racism, lack of English proficiency, inability to get access to job market, and problems in recognizing overseas skills, experience and qualification.

Finding an affordable house becomes a serious issue due to the competition in private rental market. Renting and retaining the house have equal consideration as finding the house. Discrimination and racism appear again as opposing factors. Moreover, financial hardship of refuges, size of families, their lack of Australian rental history, and unawareness about tenancy rights and responsibilities can be said as reasons for housing difficulties during their settlement.

Educational barriers are different system of education, different languages, inadequate induction and support, high illiteracy among refugee communities, disruption of schooling for young people and enrollment based on age rather than knowledge. Inconsistency in policies and practices results in ignoring needs of young people with disrupted education.

Health issues are normally caused by family separation, their prior experience and trauma, lack of social networks and consequent isolation. All of the above issues (Employment, Housing and Education) negatively affect the health and mental wellbeing of these communities. We can notice a great demand for interpreters in health sector since they are often required in counseling and consultation.

Integrational conflicts and cultural shocks attempt to damage family relations and people’s values. For an example, younger ones adapt more readily and it leads to misunderstanding and confusion within families. Parenting becomes more challenging. Cultural clashes affect spousal relationships in a negative way and ends up in separation and divorces. Domestic violence and family breakdowns seem to be common in refugee communities. On the other hand, there are serious concerns about unaccompanied minors and single mothers with many children. When it comes to youth, due to their prior refugee experience, limited education or work experience, cultural dislocation and loss of established social networks lead them to frustration. Resulting frustration has its own dangerous consequences such as involving in illegal activities.

Most of the refugees who come from war torn countries see the police as an oppressive authority. This viewpoint often creates misunderstanding between police and refugee communities. Racism does its part to damage this relationship worse than we assume. Refugees are in need for legal advices regarding their visa process, financial arrangements and documentations. Cultural incompetency of legal advisers and refugee’s lack of knowledge of legal systems can be highlighted under this area.

Community relations between refugee communities and host communities are influenced by myth about refugees, cultural misunderstanding, discrimination and racism. These factors prevent both communities to create wider interactions for better understanding between them. Without a positive cooperation from local community, it is difficult to succeed in settlement.

All these main categories and areas of settlement issues repeatedly highlight a gap between refugee communities and local community. And a detachment between refugees and local systems is also visible. These gap and detachment practically become great barriers for a smooth integration and successful settlement of refugees in Australia.

1.3 Problem Analysis

""Based on our background research on the settlement of refugees in Australia, we developed our initial problem tree. It was used as a draft during expert consultations. Its insightfulness helped us finding missing pieces if information and guided us to further research. Obviously the gap between refugee communities and local community together with local systems directly or either indirectly poses challenges to almost every problem we identified. Therefore, we identified community isolation as our focal problem.

""Consultation with refugee experts who have refugee backgrounds as well as remarkable experience from working with refugees settling in Victoria, particularly in South East of Melbourne, gave us clear picture of current settlement issues. Some of the case studies based on City of Greater Dandenong showed us a multiple dimensions of already identified problems. Our finalized problem tree, after sorting out the problems, is given below.

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Public misunderstanding was identified a crucial factor to discrimination. Some of the politicians and media play an important role in creating a negative image for refugees. For an example, if a refugee is accused to be involved in a crime scene, they flash the news by highlighting the background of this particular refugee community and paint a red color on the rest of the community without considering the consequences. In fact, these sort of careless actions widen the gap between local community and refugee communities. It is evident to see lack of confidence among refugees mainly due to cultural alienation, past refugee experience, language incompetency and lack of knowledge of local context and local systems. Considering the cultural alienation, it is happened to be the outcome of difference between the unique characteristics of different cultures. Australians can be identified with individualism, lack of social cohesion and materialism whereas most of the refugee communities can be characterized as collectivist societies. Mutual understanding is necessary to promote better understanding of these differences and that requires considerably a long time.

Among the effects of community isolation, identity crisis is something which has profound effect even on other effects either directly or indirectly. But, normally, it doesn’t get enough attention from settlement programs. Acculturation means that members of one cultural group adopt the beliefs and behaviors of a dominant group. It can be reciprocal but in case of refugees it is only one way. It causes loss of separate ethnic identification. People feel a sense of powerlessness as a result. Psychosocial repercussions heavily damage human personality. As a result, refugees look at perceived threats, it can be either real or even imagined, in their lives and recognize it may require resources we don’t have. It includes threats to their social status, social esteem, acceptance within the society and threat to their self-worth. In long time, all these effects create social discord which is not good for both local community and refugee communities.

1.4 Objective Analysis

At the end of the objective analysis, we came up with positive results, but not for each of the identified problem statements. We left a question mark for racism as it can’t be directly addressed. Nobody is going to accept that they are racist. Therefore, we decided to better leave it alone in the objective tree and reduce its impact indirectly from promoting public understanding. Objective tree was adjusted with some rearrangements with optimistic conditions.

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Alternative analysis pointed out the ongoing programs and projects by AMES, state government and other service providers in the area of employment, housing, language, education and future promises to improve current refugee and humanitarian programs. At this point, it is important to acknowledge Community Guides Program, Luv-A-Duck project and Ucan3 Youth Program of AMES as well as its support to social enterprises such as Sorghum Sisters, Cultural Cooks and Global Café, and support for community initiatives. We noticed lack of attention on the refugees’ rights and their cultural validity.

It was finally decided to promote community engagement by increasing the level of confidence among refugees and creating social embrace with public understanding. Community Engagement will create cultural validity for refugee communities by providing them greater opportunities for social networking. Mutual understanding between local community and refugee communities would have positive impact in long-term and that would consequently bring social harmony in the City of Greater Dandenong.


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