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Australian Refugee Foundation
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Indonesian Foreign Minister's comments on refugee protection welcomed

RCOA today welcomed the Indonesian Foreign Minister's plea for countries in the region to share responsibility for the protection of refugees. Read more here.

Restricting legal assistance to asylum seekers increases dangers

The Australian Government's new restrictions on access to funded legal assistance for asylum seekers will increase the risk of people being returned to danger. Read more here.

Submissions sought for 2014 UNHCR-NGO consultations

Feedback from individuals and refugee community groups is being sought on current issues of concern for people living in refugee situations overseas to help inform advocacy at the annual consultations between the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and NGOs at Geneva in June. Find out more here.

John Gibson Refugee Community Leadership Grant

Nominations are open for the annual John Gibson Refugee Community Leadership Grant which supports advocates from refugee backgrounds to take part in the UNHCR-NGO consultations at Geneva in June. Find out more here.

Stopping the boats: Australia's appalling example to the world

In a speech at a Yale Law School conference, RCOA chief executive officer Paul Power spoke about recent developments in refugee policies in Australia. Read the speech here.

No fairness and integrity in permanent Protection Visa freeze

The Australian Government's decision to suspend the granting of new permanent Protection Visas will add to the anguish of asylum seekers living in the community. Read more here.

Australia's asylum policy must change to avoid long-term damage

The Australian Government must change course on refugee policy to avoid long-term damage to the lives of asylum seekers. Read more here.

Denial of work rights for asylum seekers must be overturned

The denial of work rights to about 27,000 asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas is creating fear and uncertainty and must be overturned. Read more here.

Manus Island disturbance a tragedy waiting to happen

The death of an asylum seeker and the injuries suffered by more than 70 others at Manus Island is an appalling tragedy and a failure of Australian Government policy. Read more here.

Refugee intake increase vital to meet urgent protection needs

RCOA has urged Australia to increase the number of refugees accepted under the offshore program to help bridge the widening gulf between global resettlement needs and available places. Read more here.

Use of Temporary Humanitarian Concern visas as an alternative to Temporary Protection Visas

The Australian Government has released details about its new alternative to Temporary Protection Visas. Read more here.

Inquiry into immigration detention of children welcomed

RCOA has welcomed an Australian Human Rights Commission inquiry into the immigration detention of children. 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.


Employment strategies for refugee and humanitarian entrants

This report analyses solutions to the barriers that refugee entrants face in making the transition to meaningful, sustainable employment in Australia.


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