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Australian Refugee Foundation
Refugee Week

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Government must stop deception and do more to protect Iraqis

The Australian Government must stop trying to deceive Australians about its recent cuts to the Refugee and Humanitarian Program and start acting to increase protection options for Iraqi and Syrian refugees. Read more here.

Welfare system review needs greater focus on humanitarian entrants

The Federal Government review of Australia's welfare system must pay more attention to addressing barriers faced by refugees and humanitarian entrants. Read more here.

MPs hear community concerns about weakening protection against race hate

RCOA today welcomed the Australian Government's decision not to proceed with changes to the Racial Discrimination Act. Read more here.

Refugee Council appalled by claims of cruelty to children in detention

RCOA said it was appalled by allegations made today at a national inquiry which if true amounted to the systemic abuse of children. Read more here.

Independent guardian needed to protect interests of child asylum seekers

RCOA has welcomed the release of a new report that recommends the replacement of the Immigration Minister as the guardian of unaccompanied asylum seeker children. Read more here.

Allowing Indian consular access to asylum seekers ignores protection claims

Australia's decision to grant Indian consular officials access to 157 asylum seekers without testing their claims for refugee protection creates a troubling precedent. Read more here.

Government removes Refugee Council's core funding

The Australian Government has completely cut core funding to RCOA despite allocating $140,000 just two weeks ago in its 2014-15 Budget. Read more here.

Child asylum seekers locked up at higher rate than adults

Child asylum seekers are more likely than their adult counterparts to be held in Australia in a locked detention facility than in community alternatives. Read more here.

Australia's answers on return of asylum seekers to Sri Lanka unsatisfactory

RCOA has demanded Australia explain what has happened to 41 asylum seekers returned to Sri Lanka and what guarantees were given about their safety. Read more here.

RCOA backs call for independent observer for screening process

RCOA has endorsed a call for an independent observer to be present during the interviews of asylum seekers under enhanced screening. Read more here.

Lives on the line under proposed changes to Migration Act

RCOA has expressed alarm at proposed changes to the Migration Act 1958 which will significantly increase the risk of people being returned to danger. Read our media release.

UN High Commissioner criticises Australia's 'strange' obsession with boats

The UN High Commissioner for Refugees has described as "very strange" Australia's obsession with deterring asylum seekers who arrive by boat. Read more here.

Cambodian NGOs unite in opposition to Australia's refugee deal

RCOA has welcomed a joint statement issued by a coalition of 21 Cambodian NGOs who oppose the planned refugee resettlement deal between Cambodia and Australia. Read more here.

Running an asylum policy on cruelty leads to deadly consequences

RCOA President Phil Glendenning fears a repeat of the tragic self-immolation of a Tamil asylum seeker in Melbourne unless Australia abandoned its cruel and punitive policy approach. Read more here.

Refugee review changes a matter of life and death for asylum seekers

Proposed legislation aimed at fast-tracking refugee claims will take legal resources away from asylum seekers and hand them to the Australian Government, increasing the risk of vulnerable people being sent back to danger. Read more here.

Critical questions about Manus Island violence remain unanswered

The Australian Government's explanation for February's violence on Manus Island is inadequate and leaves critical questions unanswered. Read more here.

Federal Budget summary 2014-15

RCOA has released a summary of refugee-related spending in the 2014-15 Federal Budget. Read more here.

Detention centre closures must be accompanied by community alternatives

RCOA has welcomed plans to close six immigration detention centres but called for greater use of community arrangements for more than 3000 asylum seekers in detention. Read more here.

Enough is Enough: It's time for a new approach

On the first anniversary of the report on the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers, 64 Australian NGOs have called for a new approach to refugee and asylum policy that delivers protection to refugees. Read more here.


Refugee Week

Refugee Week is Australia's peak annual activity to inform the public about refugees and celebrate positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society.


Youth and family issues


Power dynamics and roles within families often change dramatically in the process of resettlement. Financial pressures related to affordable housing, unemployment, repaying debts and sending remittances all generate pressures within families. Men can feel disempowered, particularly if they move from having responsibility for their family and status within their local community to one where they struggle to find work or to speak the language.

Intergenerational relationships can also become strained and break down through the settlement process. Children and young people tend to learn English more quickly than their parents; they mix with others from different backgrounds at school and tend to integrate into their new society more quickly. Previous methods for disciplining children may be ineffective or inappropriate in the Australian context, leading to intergenerational conflict and sometimes the involvement of child protection services.

Compounding these challenges is that many families arrive with little understanding of the difficulties they may face as a family and with limited knowledge of the role of the police and government services in the Australian context, and the family support services that may assist them to negotiate their way through this difficult stage of settlement.

Young people

A significant proportion of those arriving in Australia under the Refugee and Humanitarian Program are young people, with 59% of new entrants arriving in the five years between July 2005 and June 2010 aged under 25 years on arrival, and 31% aged between 12 and 25. 

Refugee young people have needs that are likely to differ from those of their parents’ generation by virtue of their age. Older refugee entrants who have grown up in other parts of the world and arrive in Australia as adults bring with them a diverse range of education, employment and life experiences. Many were skilled professionals in their home countries, or were community or political leaders. Young people, on the other hand, are at a transitional stage in their lives as they negotiate the path into adulthood. Many will have only lived a short period of their lives in their country of birth, and may have spent the majority of their childhood as refugees moving from place to place. A significant proportion of the young people settling in Australia in recent years have been born in refugee camps and have had limited educational or employment experiences. These are factors which will impact on a young person’s sense of identity and their settlement experiences in Australia.

For refugee young people, the developmental challenges of adolescence are generally compounded by the traumatic nature of the refugee experience, cultural dislocation, loss of established social networks and the practical demands of resettlement. Young people must negotiate education and employment pathways (many with a history of disrupted or no formal education), a new language and culture, make new friends and navigate unfamiliar and complex social systems (such as Centrelink, Australian laws, public transport), while also negotiating individual, family and community expectations. On the other hand, young people from refugee backgrounds often learn English and adapt to life in Australia more quickly than members of their parents’ generation. Many have learned skills – like adaptability, resourcefulness and how to communicate cross-culturally – that stand them in good stead in navigating their new life in Australia, particularly when accompanied by the fierce determination to succeed which they so often manifest.

Some recurring issues concerning young people from refugee backgrounds include:

  • Housing and homelessness – Young people in general run a higher risk of homelessness, but the added risk factors of being a humanitarian entrant mean young refugees are six to ten times more likely to be at risk of homelessness than Australian-born young people. Compounding risk factors for refugee young people include: intergenerational conflict and family reconfiguration, lack of adult support and/or male role models, settlement issues, overcrowding and cultural dislocation (visit the website of the Centre for Multicultural Youth for more information. See also housing).
  • Education and training – The need for better education and training pathways and support for young people who arrive with a background of disrupted education (See also education and training)
  • Sexual and reproductive health – The need for more targeted sexual and reproductive health education programs for young refugee entrants (see also health).
  • Young men - The absence of adult male role models for young people, and especially unaccompanied minors, has been raised as a particular issue in states and territories with smaller settlement numbers and where ethnic community structures are less able to provide the support to young people from families without an adult male.

Amplifying the Voices of Young Refugees

In recognition of the significant numbers of refugee young people setting in Australia, RCOA undertook a literature review and series of youth consultations across three Australian states and the Australian Capital Territory in 2008-09 with the aim of developing a targeted and informed strategy for the ongoing engagement of refugee young people in advocating to have their needs and concerns addressed and ideas recognised at a national level.

The Amplifying the Voices of Young Refugees Project was premised upon the belief that listening to the voices of young refugees and humanitarian entrants within national forums, such as RCOA’s own annual community consultations, will facilitate the development of advocacy strategies, policy recommendations and project initiatives that are informed by and responsive to the priorities of a key and currently under-heard population. RCOA believes that this will in turn lead to the development of more sensitive public policies to address their concerns, while also positively influencing broader community understandings of the experiences and contributions of young refugees.

A report from this project detailing priority settlement issues identified by refugee young people and effective youth engagement strategies is available on our research reports page.  

Research on education and training pathways

One of the recommendations from RCOA's national youth consultations was to further consult young people and relevant member organisations on key issues of concern to them, and develop corresponding position papers and advocacy strategies. With education and training clearly identified as a priority issue of concern for young people, RCOA is currently working on a research project exploring post-compulsory education and training pathways in NSW, drawing together existing literature and research, looking at different 'models of excellence' from NSW and across Australia, and identifying gaps and recommendations through consultation with key stakeholders.

An annotated bibliography of relevant literature can be downloaded here.

For more information and links to resources on refugee young people and families, see our Settlement Resources page.


Last updated April 2011