Introducing Building a New Life in Australia: The longitudinal study of humanitarian migrants

Introducing Building a New Life in Australia: The longitudinal study of humanitarian migrants

6 May 2015
Introducing ‘Building a New Life in Australia’

Building a New Life in Australia is a large longitudinal study that examines how humanitarian migrants settle into a new life in Australia.

This article is part of a series of resources being released during our Focus on... Working with culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) adolescents.

Humanitarian migrants are a vulnerable population, having experienced trauma and persecution, and often, periods of time in refugee camps or immigration detention. The journey people make from refugee to citizenship is one where they will encounter many hurdles, but also support from people who took the journey before them, from the community, and from different levels of Government. Understanding how humanitarian migrants settle in Australia is paramount to ensuring effective policy and program responses.

In 2012, the Department of Immigration and Border Protection commissioned the ‘Building a New Life in Australia’ (BNLA) study1. This is a longitudinal study about how humanitarian migrants settle into a new life in Australia. It’s the first comprehensive study of its kind in more than a decade and aims to identify factors that help or hinder the successful settlement of humanitarian migrants, and assist in improving policy development and program delivery.

Data collection commenced in 2013 and will run annually for five years, spanning participants’ early months in Australia through to their eligibility for citizenship. Fieldwork is undertaken via alternating waves of home visits in Waves 1, 3 and 5 and telephone interviews in Waves 2 and 4.

The survey and participant materials are translated into multiple languages (14 different languages were used in Wave 1). Participants are asked questions covering a range of key domains, including demographic information, housing, language proficiency, education, employment and income, pre-migration experiences, physical and metal health, self-sufficiency, community support, life satisfaction and life in Australia.

In Wave 12, close to 2,400 individuals and families who had been granted a permanent humanitarian visa in the previous 3-6 months were recruited to the study. Participants were living in urban and regional communities around Australia and came from 35 different countries and varied cultural backgrounds. Close to 50 different languages were spoken in their homes and their ages ranged from 15 to 83 years.

Experiences of humanitarian migrant children and young people

In Wave 1, we spoke with 135 adolescents aged 15-17 years. Youth-specific questions were developed for this subgroup that focussed on:

  • School participation;
  • Experiences of bullying and discrimination;
  • Sense of belonging in Australia; and
  • Ease of making friends and understanding Australian culture.

It will be very important to track these children and young people’s settlement journeys over the next five years to better understand the hurdles they may face as they navigate school and other new systems in Australia.

Wave 2 data collection has recently concluded, and we are currently preparing for Wave 3. We are excited to introduce a new child module for Wave 3. Additional child-focussed questions will be asked of the main caregiver (of a child aged 5-17 years) as part of their standard survey. Children aged 11-17 years will also be sent a 2-page self-report questionnaire to complete (some will have been interviewed in Wave 1 as described above). These children will be asked questions about their adjustment and wellbeing, experiences at school and general health, activities and acculturation. Having this additional child-focussed data will enable us to explore the psychosocial adjustment of children of humanitarian migrants. 

Data from the BNLA study will be made publically available to approved data users. It is anticipated that findings from the first wave of data collection will be available in mid 2015. To find out more, please visit the study website.

1. In 2014, responsibility for the project moved to the Department of Social Services (DSS). The Australian Institute of Family Studies is managing the project and Colmar Brunton Social Research is undertaking fieldwork.

2. Wave 1 data collection ran from October 2013 to February 2014.

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Michelle Silbert

Michelle Silbert is a Senior Research Officer at the Australian Institute of Family Studies, where she works on the Building a New Life in Australia study.

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