Settlement experiences of recently arrived humanitarian migrants

Building a New Life in Australia - Wave 1


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Content type
Family Matters article

March 2016


Pre-arrival and early settlement experiences of a cohort of humanitarian migrants

Humanitarian migrants are fleeing trauma and persecution. Many have spent periods of time in refugee camps or detention centres pending resolution of their status. The journey that people make from refugee to citizen 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.

Migrant communities have made considerable contributions to Australia's economic and social wellbeing (Hugo, 2011). Understanding how humanitarian migrants settle in Australia is paramount to ensuring effective policy and program responses; however, detailed research in this area has been lacking.

The Building a New Life in Australia (BNLA) study aims to trace the settlement journey of humanitarian migrants from their arrival in Australia through to their eligibility for citizenship, in order to better understand the factors that influence a person's settlement journey. The BNLA project is expected to provide a broad evidence base to assist policy development and program improvement for humanitarian migrants in this country.

More than 1,500 individuals and their families who have been granted a permanent humanitarian visa to live in Australia participated in Wave 1. They come from 35 different countries and speak close to 50 different languages.

The Settlement Experiences of Recently Arrived Humanitarian Migrants Fact Sheet describes the pre-arrival and early settlement experiences for a cohort of humanitarian migrants who arrived in Australia or were granted their permanent Australian visas during May and December 2013.

Wave 1 findings highlight the complex lives of recently arrived humanitarian migrants and the disadvantage and vulnerability experienced by many:

  • most participants reported having relatively low levels of English language proficiency or education prior to arrival in Australia;
  • the majority reported that 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 other family members waiting to come to Australia.

A number of positive findings also emerged, including:

  • a high uptake of English language classes and improvements in English proficiency;
  • improvements in self-rated health; and
  • feelings among participants of belonging and being welcomed in Australia.


  • Hugo, G. (2011). A significant contribution: The economic, social and civic contributions of first and second generation humanitarian entrants. Canberra: Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

Settlement Experiences of Recently Arrived Humanitarian Migrants by Rebecca Jenkinson, Michelle Silbert, John De Maio and Ben Edwards, is available in full online.