How young people from humanitarian backgrounds are settling in Australia


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Content type
Short article

March 2019


Nicole Paterson

A research summary (Liddy & deAnstiss, 2016) drawing on findings from the Building a New Life in Australia (BNLA) study provides a snapshot of how young migrants aged 15–25 years from humanitarian backgrounds are settling in Australia.

Adolescence is a critical time for a person’s developing sense of belonging and identity (Liddy & deAnstiss, 2016). For young people from humanitarian backgrounds, settling into a new country can present unique challenges during this period of development. Young people experience settlement differently to children and adults due to their age, developmental stage and the various roles they play in helping their family to settle (Liddy & deAnstiss, 2016).

Using three of the four domains of active citizenship identified in the National Youth Settlement Framework by the Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network (MYAN) (Liddy & deAnstiss, 2016)1, the research summary uses BNLA longitudinal data to summarise outcomes for young people2 in:

  1. economic participation
  2. social participation
  3. personal wellbeing.

The research summary highlights that these young people’s English language skills, participation in education and social network diversity have increased over time. However, at the same time, young people’s experiences of discrimination have also increased. These young people reported high levels of psychological distress – higher than in the general population.

What is the BNLA study?

Building a New Life in Australia is a longitudinal study of humanitarian migrants who arrived, or received their permanent visa, in Australia between May and December 2013. The BNLA study aims to identify the factors that help or hinder settlement in Australia.

BNLA commenced in 2013 with five waves of data collected so far. Study participants include 134 young people aged 15–17 years and 546 young people aged 18–25 years who were interviewed at Wave 1, with 104 and 352 of these respective age cohorts completing interviews in each of the first three annual waves.

More information about the study is available on the BNLA website.

Economic participation

BNLA measures economic participation3 using data on English language skills and participation in education, which the research summary highlights are critical in building pathways to employment.

The study found that young people's English-speaking proficiency improved the longer they were in Australia. Young people aged 15–17 years showed the biggest improvement in English-speaking proficiency compared to 18–25 year-olds between Waves 1 and 3. The vast majority of young people had undertaken English classes since their arrival in Australia and their involvement in other study and training increased over time.

Those aged 15–17 years were more likely to be doing other study or training than those aged 18–25 years at each wave. On the other hand, young people aged 18–25 years were more likely to be in paid employment (31%) compared to those aged 15–17 (6%). However, this applied mainly to young men; with 49% of young men aged 18–25 years in paid work at Wave 3 compared to only 8% of young women of the same age.

The research summary notes that young women aged 18–25 years were less proficient in their English-speaking skills than adolescent women (15–17 years) and young men (15–25 years) and may require targeted support.

Social participation

BNLA examines social participation3 using data on young people’s friendship networks and experiences of discrimination. As the research summary describes, both play an important role in enhancing a young person’s ability to engage in community life and access the resources and support they need.

The study data showed an increase in young people’s social integration the longer they were in Australia. This included a decrease in the proportion of young people reporting ‘no friends’ and an increase in the number of young people reporting a mixture of friends from outside their own ethnic/religious group. However, this coincided with a rise in experiences of discrimination. Between Waves 1 and 3, young people’s experiences of discrimination in the past 12 months increased from 4% to 9% for 15–17 year-olds and from 7% to 15% for 18–25 year-olds.

These findings indicate the need to work with communities of all ages to reduce discrimination against young humanitarian migrants (Rioseco & Liddy, 2018).

Personal wellbeing

BNLA measures personal wellbeing3 using data on mental health, which is a critical aspect of wellbeing. As the research summary explains, pre-migration trauma, as well as stress experienced during settlement, can have a uniquely detrimental impact on mental health (see also Nickerson, Bryant, Steel, Silove & Brooks, 2010).

The BNLA study found high levels of psychological distress among all young people, with 31% of young men and 37% of young women being classified as having moderate/high psychological distress at Wave 1 (Rioseco & Liddy, 2018). This is much higher than the proportions of moderate/high psychological distress found in the general population (5% of males and 12% of females aged 16–25 years).

In response, service providers are encouraged to develop trauma-informed practices to support young people to manage and recover from trauma and support them through the process of settlement. See the Applying the NYSF good practice capabilities (PDF) resource developed by MYAN Australia for more information.


The BNLA study provides insight into settlement outcomes for young humanitarian migrants in Australia. The research summary encourages practitioners, including those from mainstream or non-settlement agencies, to use the National Youth Settlement Framework as a tool to help support young people from humanitarian backgrounds settle successfully into Australia.

Some key findings of the study indicate the need to work with communities to reduce discrimination against young migrants and address settlement stressors and mental health problems, including any pre-migration trauma (Rioseco & Liddy, 2018). The study also highlights the importance of increasing the economic participation of young adult women, in particular.

Related resources


Liddy, N., & deAnstiss, H. (2016). National Youth Settlement Framework. Melbourne: Multicultural Youth Advocacy Network (Australia). Retrieved from:

Nickerson, A., Bryant, R. A., Steel, Z., Silove, D., & Brooks, R. (2010). The impact of fear for family on mental health in a resettled Iraqi refugee community. Journal of Psychiatric Research, 44, 229–235.

Rioseco, P., & Liddy, N. (2018). Settlement outcomes of humanitarian youth and active citizenship: Economic participation, social participation and personal wellbeing (Building a New Life in Australia research summary). Melbourne: Australian Institute of Family Studies. Retrieved from:

1 Developed by MYAN Australia in consultation with young people and people working with refugees and migrants, the NYSF is an evidence-based guide for settlement policy and service delivery supporting active citizenship in four domains: economic participation, social participation, civil participation and personal wellbeing. It includes a set of indicators for each domain as well as eight Good Practice Capabilities, and other tools for measuring and supporting the settlement outcomes of young humanitarian entrants.

2 In this short article, young people refers to BNLA study participants who were 15–25 years old at Wave 1 of the BLNA study, unless otherwise stated.

3 See the National Youth Settlement Framework: Applying active citizenship indicators to practice for more information about economic participation, social participation and personal wellbeing are defined: