Refugee Council of Australia
Three people at Metropolitan Migrant Resource Centre

Settlement services

Cultural orientation

There are two forms of cultural orientation provided to refugee and humanitarian entrants to Australia – pre-arrival orientation through the AUSCO program, and post-arrival orientation provided as part of settlement programs.

Pre-arrival orientation: the Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) program

The Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) program is provided to refugee and humanitarian visa holders who are preparing to settle in Australia. The program provides practical advice and the opportunity to ask questions about travel to and life in Australia. It is delivered overseas, before they begin their journey. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is currently contracted to deliver AUSCO on behalf of the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBP).

The five-day AUSCO course is delivered in refugee camps and urban centres across three regions – Asia, Africa and the Middle East – by trainers recruited by IOM. Each year approximately 300 courses are organised for groups of 25-30 people per course. Since AUSCO began in 2003, courses have been delivered in countries including: Bangladesh, Egypt, Ghana, Guinea, India, Iran, Jordan, Kenya, Lebanon, Malaysia, Nepal, Pakistan, Romania, the Republic of Congo, Sierra Leone, Sudan, Syria, Tanzania, Thailand, Turkey, Uganda, Zambia and Zimbabwe.

The AUSCO program is the beginning of the settlement process for people coming to Australia under the Humanitarian Program and is designed to provide practical information to prepare participants for life in Australia. Information covers: travel tips, settlement support services and on-arrival assistance including language, healthcare, employment and accommodation services and comparative cultural practices.

AUSCO is designed to:

  • prepare visa holders for travel;
  • enhance settlement prospects;
  • create realistic expectations for their life in Australia; and
  • provide information about Australian laws, values and lifestyle.

AUSCO curriculum

The AUSCO course is tailored for delivery to four separate groups – adults, youth, children and people who are pre-literate. In addition there are Family Day sessions for all family members. The curriculum is designed to give participants confidence and independence starting their new lives in Australia, and is an opportunity for them to meet others making the same journey.

Topics covered during the course include:

  • an overview of Australia including government, geography and climate;
  • travel to Australia including arrangements for the airport, the flight, transit and arrival;
  • settling in, including on-arrival assistance;
  • cultural adjustment, including communication and behaviour;
  • healthcare including Medicare, hospitals, immunisation and preventative health;
  • education including learning English, schools, tertiary and community education;
  • finding a job including Centrelink, Job Network, recognition of overseas qualifications and experience and Australian working conditions;
  • money management including banking, budgeting, taxation and credit;
  • housing including renting and household management arrangements
  • public transport and driver’s licences;
  • Australian law, values and citizenship; and
  • access to torture and trauma counseling.

AUSCO teachers utilise a variety of teaching methods throughout the course including brainstorming, simulations, case studies, debates, discussions, problem solving and role plays. DIAC also provides classroom and reference materials such as videos and DVDs, maps, posters, newspapers, and books about Australia. A student handbook is supplied to participants and provides information on all AUSCO topics as well as a copy of the Beginning a Life in Australia booklet available in various client languages.

AUSCO Exchange Program

Since 2008, RCOA has assisted IOM in developing a short-term deployment program through the recruitment of suitably qualified people from Australia to provide AUSCO trainers with relevant and current information on settlement services and issues in Australia. In 2008 and 2009, eight trainers were recruited by RCOA to provide input and feedback to AUSCO trainers in Malaysia, Thailand, Jordan, Kenya and Ghana.

In 2009-10, this Guest Trainer program evolved into a two-way exchange – sending skilled people from Australia to provide input to a regional AUSCO training team and sending a member of that AUSCO training team to Australia to see settlement services and issues first-hand. This revised program builds stronger links between pre-arrival orientation providers and post-arrival settlement services. Between May 2010 and February 2011, four two-way exchanges took place. These involved settlement specialists from Centrecare WA, AMES Victoria, Centre for Multicultural Youth (Victoria) and STARTTS (NSW) and AUSCO trainers from Thailand, Nepal, Malaysia and Kenya.

Post-arrival orientation

Newly arrived refugee and humanitarian entrants face a range of challenges when they settle in Australia, including acquiring foundational English skills, understanding Australian bureaucratic, educational and business structures and adjusting to a society and culture which differs significantly from what they have previously experienced.

While orientation to assist with navigating these challenges begins for many humanitarian entrants before they arrive in Australia through the AUSCO program, most orientation necessarily happens after a person has arrived and is negotiating their new life and new systems for the first time.

While post-arrival orientation occurs in elements of the Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (HSS), Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) and Settlement Grants Program (SGP) (see Settlement Support), there is currently no over-arching framework of post-arrival orientation linking these programs.

Orientation and the HSS

Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS) providers are required to develop and deliver a localised Orientation Program in accordance with a national framework. The framework sets out the broad scope of subjects and core competencies in the Orientation Program.

The seven areas of core competency that HSS clients should achieve before being exited are:

  • Finding information and accessing services – Understand what services are available; able to access services and know how to obtain information or assistance to access services; able to request an interpreter and use the Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS).
  • Making an appointment – Able to make an appointment by using the telephone or in person; understanding the importance of being punctual for appointments.
  • Transport – Able to independently get around their local community and the wider vicinity; understand road safety and licensing requirements.
  • Money management – Understand the value of money; develop household budgeting skills; able to access money, including using an ATM, and use it to shop and pay bills without assistance.
  • Tenancy issues – Understand tenancy obligations, including property maintenance; develop an understanding of finding a rental property and tenancy application processes with a view to applying for a lease; understand the importance of changing address with essential agencies when moving house.
  • Employment and education – Develop understanding of education opportunities in Australia and associated career guidance services; understand how the Australian primary and secondary education systems operate; develop understanding of employment services and working in Australia.
  • Australian law – Comprehend child protection and domestic violence laws and their impact on family relationships; understand the role of police; develop understanding of Australian culture and laws and display culturally appropriate behaviour.

Clients must exit the HSS having attained core competencies or be referred to SGP or CCS services where competencies haven’t been achieved within 12 months.

Orientation and the AMEP

Since 2011, AMEP service providers are required to deliver an initial Settlement Course to all AMEP Clients undertaking classroom tuition when they first commence AMEP and a final short Settlement Course before the AMEP Client exits AMEP. The initial entry course runs for at least two weeks and covers immediate as well as longer term settlement needs. The exit course runs for one day and reinforces earlier concepts as well as explaining client pathways post-AMEP to further ESL, education, employment and training.

The AMEP settlement course covers some similar areas to the HSS orientation, and is intended to highlight key aspects of settlement information delivered through AUSCO and HSS. Topics include, but not limited to, the following areas:

  • Culture shock – Acclimatising to a new life and culture, loss of family/friends
  • The law – Respect for and not fear of the police
  • Housing – Renting, responsibilities, rights
  • Money – Shopping, budgeting, bills
  • Banking – banks, ATM, credit cards
  • Health – Well-being, nutrition, leisure, personal hygiene, Medicare
  • Transport – Bus, train, walking,
  • English – AMEP (active participation, asking questions, taking responsibility for learning)
  • Schools – Education system, communication with teachers, forms
  • Work – Job Services Australia, Centrelink
  • Driving – Road rules, licence, buying a car, loans
  • Communication – Respect, relationships, eye contact, punctuality etc.
  • Orientation and the SGP

Orientation is also one of the main service types of the Settlement Grants Program (SGP). Orientation varies depending on local communities and needs and exist to promote self-reliance in individuals and families through the development of knowledge, settlement life skills and familiarity with Australian norms and way of life (cultural, social and legal). Orientation activities aim to equip clients with settlement life skills and the information they need to operate independently and access mainstream services and opportunities. Projects include, but are not limited to, casework, provision of information, referral to appropriate agencies and teaching settlement life skills.

Models of post-arrival orientation

Among the post-arrival services, there are many examples of orientation programs and a variety of ways in which they are designed and delivered. For example:

The Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) program of ACCES Services Inc in Queensland provides integration services and orientation to Australia, including literacy and life skills (e.g., opening bank accounts and enrolling children in school).

The Community Guides program in AMES Victoria is another example of a program specifically dedicated to orienting newly arrived entrants to Australia. Entrants are matched with guides (who are mostly former refugees) who are bilingual in English and the language of the new communities. The guides undertake practical tasks in initial settlement and link refugees to their respective communities and to the broader Australian community.

The Tasmanians Talking project, managed by the University of Tasmania (UTAS) and funded by DIAC through the Living in Harmony (now Diverse Australia) program, developed a series of seven information sessions covering a variety of settlement issues. The sessions were delivered by two facilitators: one a former migrant with first-hand knowledge of the settlement process and the other an expert on the topic. The sessions were delivered in small groups, with participants belonging to the same language or ethic community, creating opportunities for dialogue and conversational learning.

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