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Speaking Out: voices of young people from refugee & asylum seeking backgrounds

The Global Refugee Youth Consultations

The Global Refugee Youth Consultations (GRYC) was a joint initiative of the UNHCR and the Women’s Refugee Commission (WRC) in Geneva, Switzerland and is being supported by the Youth and Adolescents in Emergencies (YAE) Group. This global consultation process occurred in preparation for the 2016 annual UNHCR-NGO Consultations held in Geneva, with the theme of ‘Youth’. A global GRYC workshop was held that brought together young people from across the globe who had participated in national GRYC workshops. This workshop resulted in the development of 6 Core Actions for Refugee Youth and the final Report, including the Core Actions, was launched in September.

Consistent with the global consultations, the overall aim of the GRYC in Australia was to provide an opportunity for young people from refugee and asylum seeking backgrounds (aged 15-24) to articulate issues of concern, identify solutions, and contribute to national and international advocacy on issues for refugee and asylum seeking young people. Between February and May 2016, 555 young people participated in 24 consultations across all of Australia’s states and territories. The GRYC in Australia was coordinated through a partnership between MYAN (Australia) and the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA).

Key concerns raised during the consultations

Before arriving in Australia

Issues facing young people residing in refugee camps, in countries of transit or in countries of asylum were highlighted by youth consultation participants. These included:

  • a lack of basic health infrastructure
  • the impact of mental health issues on health and wellbeing
  • a lack of basic education infrastructure
  • corruption in the system impacts on equal access to education
  • lack of basic and accurate information about seeking protection
  • the need to protect the rights of young people
  • the missing basic infrastructure for living a decent life, and
  • the constant presence of fear.

Living in Australia

Young people coming to Australia as refugees or people seeking asylum face a myriad of issues associated with their flight from their country of origin and their journey to Australia. Once in Australia they are faced with a new culture, language, education system and a whole new service system. They are navigating two cultures as they make their way in Australia and seek a future in a new country. The process of settlement into Australia can be frustrating, marginalising and confusing, but also an
exciting time offering many opportunities.

Key issues included:

  • It is important to assess and place students at the right educational level
  • Information on education pathways is needed
  • Discrimination, language skills and lack of recognition of qualifications makes it hard to find employment
  • Extra support is needed to help maintain employment
  • Mental health issues are prevalent and far reaching
  • Problems are exacerbated by unemployment and a sense of hopelessness
  • Experiences of displacement have long term implications
  • The refugee experience impacts on a sense of
    belonging and personal safety
  • There is an ever present concern about immigration processes
  • Accurate information and knowledge is greatly needed
  • Negative stereotypes can lead to discrimination and bullying
  • Cultural adjustment issues can impact negatively on identity
  • There is a deep sense of loss and disconnection for those without family
  • Parents’ reliance on their children can create adjustment problems

Key solutions

Before arriving in Australia

  • Provide better health services, particularly for women and children
  • Improve access to education by providing free schools for all young people
  • Young people have a role in developing solutions
  • Provide opportunities for young people to share their experiences with decision makers

Living in Australia

  • Young people are skilled networkers
  • Fostering leadership requires an investment of time and money
  • Extra supports are needed to smooth integration into school
  • Cultural training is valuable for educators
  • Consult with young people to learn how to improve services
  • Bicultural and bilingual workers are important in delivering services
  • Orientation workshops would assist in the cultural transition
  • Sharing stories is the best way to counter discrimination
  • Young refugees and people seeking asylum arriving alone require special attention
  • A greater refugee intake is needed to provide greater protection for young people
  • Youth-led programs are most effective
  • Young people are the best transmitter of accurate and timely information for their peers
  • It is valuable to educate young people about the civic process
  • Investment and training is needed to support young people to have a voice



  • Increase targeted services for refugee young people, including more refugee youth- and culturally specific counselling and support services.
  • Increase the number of community workers who have had a refugee or migrant experience in order to bridge the divide between service providers and refugee youth in government agencies and community services.
  • Engage young people in genuine collaboration to assist them to shape and improve programs aimed at refugee youth.
  • Engage young people in workings towards the elimination of racism, discrimination and prejudice through awareness-raising by youth and their new communities, and information sharing about refugee youth experiences.
  • Support young people to undertake community education by sharing their stories in order to contribute to public knowledge on refugee matters.

For government

  • Work with international organisations to provide better health, education and basic services in refugee camps, countries of transit and countries of asylum.
  • Provide increased support for young refugees arriving alone.
  • Increase the humanitarian intake to accommodate more refugee youth entering Australia.
  • Review harmful immigration policies affecting young people including temporary protection, restrictions to family reunion, and mandatory detention.
  • Ensure that changes to biographical data are accommodated, post-settlement.
  • Develop peer-to-peer educational programs within all detention centres accommodating young people, supported through relevant community organisations.
  • Ensure that funding for social services is contracted in a manner that encourages young people to deliver programs, provide supports and develop skills and capacities in themselves.
  • Fund settlement services to deliver refugee youth-led programs, for example, post arrival orientation programs.
  • Engage in dialogue with young people from refugee backgrounds to hear their experiences and create opportunities to challenge the existing negative narratives around refugees.
  • Review the Australian Volunteers for International Development Program to promote young people from refugee backgrounds in Australia volunteering overseas in diaspora communities.

For mental health service providers

  • Implement a peer support model in refugee camps and other settings to address mental health issues including feelings of isolation and hopelessness.
  • Mental health service providers engage across the broader community to break down stigma and shame surrounding mental health
  • Engage bicultural youth workers to build awareness and provide support to newly arrived youth accessing mental health services.
  • UNHCR and other legal services to provide access to free advice and information for young people in refugee camps, in countries of transit or countries of asylum regarding their claim for protection.
  • Provide information and education on legal rights in the form of legal classes for newly arrived refugees and their families.

For education and training providers

  • Replace age-based determination for school level entry with a merit or skills-based measure.
  • Increase the provision of English language classes in schools.
  • Create opportunities for young people from refugee backgrounds to engage in dialogue with teachers, school administrators, and educational forums to present their experiences and challenge the existing negative narratives around young refugees.
  • Provide facilities for students to conduct multilingual interaction, educational activities and shared educational resources with their families.
  • Create opportunities for further education for refugee young people by for example, subsidising school fee and increasing the number of scholarships.
  • Remove restrictions to asylum seeker access to further education beyond the age of 18 years.
  • Engage interpreters and culturally sensitive teachers’ aides to support students and their families during orientation to schools.

    For settlement services providers

  • Provide more platforms for young people to mentor newly arrived young refugees from similar backgrounds to provide advice, information and support.
  • Support and establish mentoring programs for parents and elders, to assist in understanding how young people are impacted by the challenges of settling into life in Australia.
  • Train and mentor young people from refugee backgrounds to become involved in community education and awareness building on refugee youth experiences and concerns.
  • Support young people to engage with social media to raise identified issues in a positive and proactive manner.
  • Support young people to take up volunteering opportunities in the broader community and their own ethnic community.

Read the full report

Speaking Out
Size : 3.1 MB Format : PDF

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