Humanitarian migrants 'Building a new life' in Australia


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Content type
Media release

January 2016

The report, Building a New Life in Australia is the first large-scale study in a decade involving 2,400 immigrants in all states and territories in Australia.

The Institute’s Director, Anne Hollonds said highlights from the first wave of data from the five-year study were now available in an accessible format for policymakers, non-profit organisations and the public.

“This fact sheet provides the key findings in an easy to read format that will contribute to a greater understanding of the settlement journey of humanitarian migrants from their arrival in Australia through to their eligibility for citizenship,” she said.

The Institute’s Manager of Longitudinal Studies, Dr Ben Edwards said the study’s findings highlighted the complex lives and diverse range of experiences of humanitarian migrants.

“The study involves participants from 35 countries, including from the Middle East, Asia and Africa and ranging in age from 15 years to over 80 years old,” he said.

“It found that humanitarian migrants reported having relatively low levels of English or education prior to arrival in Australia.

“The majority also reported they or their family members had experienced traumatic events prior to migrating including war, persecution or extreme living conditions and many were now separated from their families.

“A number of positive findings also emerged including a high uptake of English language classes and improvements in English proficiency, improvement in health and that they felt a sense of belonging and being welcomed in Australia.”

The Building a New Life in Australia 2015 Fact Sheet highlights:

Education and Employment

  •  70 per cent of new arrivals are either working or studying, mainly to gain English language skills
  • 7 per cent of migrants reported being employed.


  • 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
  • Around one-third of migrants had moved multiple times
  • Almost a half reported their current housing arrangement was either temporary or a short-term lease of 6 months or less.

Health and life satisfaction

  • 13 per cent said their physical health was ‘poor’ or ‘very poor’
  • 89 per cent reported they or their immediate family had experienced at least one type of traumatic event prior to arrival
  • 35 per cent of men and 45 per cent of women were at moderate or high risk of psychological distress compared to 7 per cent of men and 11 per cent of women in the general population
  • About one quarter said they were experiencing many problems or stressors and about the same number said they were ‘not coping well’.


  • About half reported having had family in Australia when they arrived and 24 per cent had friends from where they used to live
  • Around half of the migrants were waiting to reunite with family currently in another country.

Sense of Belonging

  • 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.


Read the Building a new life in Australia (BNLA) Fact Sheet: Settlement experiences of recently arrived humanitarian migrants using the link below in Related publications.

Media contact     
Kate O'Connor      
Phone: 0499 860 257  
Email: kate.o'[email protected]