Australia welcomes refugees

Australia welcomes refugees

Media release — 28 July 2014

Humanitarian migrants arriving in Australia say they have been made welcome during their first year in the country, according to findings from a new study tracking their settlement experiences.

Building a New Life in Australia, the first large-scale study in a decade involving 2,400 immigrants in all states and territories in Australia, found three-quarters of humanitarian migrants felt they had been made welcome in Australia.

In a research presentation to the 13th Australian Institute of Family Studies' conference this week, researchers report that half of the new arrivals said they had 'always' been made welcome, while a further 28 per cent said they'd felt welcome 'most of the time'.

The Institute's Senior Research Fellow, Diana Smart said around 70 per cent of humanitarian migrants also felt a sense of belonging in Australia, despite some struggling with health and
housing issues.

"The people in the study are very diverse: some are single, some are in families, there are people from Middle Eastern countries, Asia and Africa, aged anywhere from 18 to 83 years old, from the highly educated to those with little or no education,” Ms Smart said.

"But one thing they have in common is that they have all experienced traumas such as war, violence, persecution, imprisonment or kidnapping, extreme deprivation or natural disaster.

"About thirty per cent have experienced three or more types of traumatic events and as a result, they are a very vulnerable group.

"But despite grappling with serious issues, most immigrants feel they have been made welcome, few experienced discrimination and the results speak well of the Australian community.”

Key findings include:

  • Three-quarters of new arrivals are either working or studying, mainly to gain English
    language skills.
  • 80-90 per cent said that so far, their experience of settling into Australia has been 'good' or 'very good'.
  • 5 per cent had experienced discrimination usually on the streets, public transport and in local neighbourhoods.
  • 13 per cent said their physical health was 'poor' or 'very poor'.
  • 35 per cent of men and 46 per cent of women reported mental health problems.
  • About one quarter said they were experiencing many problems or stressors and about the same number said they were 'not coping well'.
  • Many have struggled to find housing, 40 per cent said it was 'hard' and another 35 per cent 'very hard', mainly due to the cost, language difficulties or not having references.

Ms Smart said the new study – Building a New Life in Australia – was not a study of boat people, although some of the people in it had arrived by boat and subsequently qualified for a humanitarian migrant visa.

She said most of those taking part had been granted a humanitarian visa before they arrived here, having been assessed as refugees by the United Nations while they were in transit countries and refugee camps after fleeing their home country. Others arrived on a valid tourist or student visa, then sought asylum.

Ms Smart said the findings present a positive picture of life in Australia for humanitarian migrants including those from Afghanistan, Iraq, Burma and Sri Lanka, the main source countries.

"The majority are working hard to increase their skills and make the most of their new start in Australia. They feel welcomed and are developing a sense of belonging,” she said.

"However, many are struggling with mental health issues and we hope to see this improve over the next five years, as we follow them from their early months in Australia to their time of eligibility for citizenship.

"We will be checking in with them every year for the next five years, to see how they settle into life in Australia and to examine the factors that help people rebuild their lives successfully, along with the things that make it more difficult for them.

"We want to understand how they engage with Australians socially, how their economic and personal wellbeing develops, as well as their sense of independence and personal happiness.

"Ultimately, we will be attempting to gauge their overall satisfaction with life in Australia, what helps them in their settlement journey, and whether they intend to stay and become citizens.”

About The Study

Building a New Life in Australia is a major new longitudinal study following the settlement journeys of a large group of humanitarian migrants from their early months in Australia to their eligibility for citizenship in five years. Their experiences will be documented once every year,for five years. Close to 2400 people took part in the first wave of interviews. About 1500 of these were the principal applicants on their humanitarian visa application. The majority are living in Melbourne and Sydney, but others come from a total of 11 sites in every state and territory, including smaller centres, rural, remote, wealthy, and disadvantaged areas. The research was commissioned by the Commonwealth Government Department of Immigration and Border Protection and is now managed by the Department of Social Services.

The research presentation 'Building a New Life in Australia: The Longitudinal Study of Australian Migrants' by AIFS Senior Research Fellow, Diana Smart, and co-authors John De Maio, Michelle Silbert and Rebecca Jenkinson will be presented at the 13th Australian Institute of Family Studies' conference Families In A Rapidly Changing World being held at the Melbourne Convention Centre from July 30 to 1 August.

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