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.
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