Refugee Council of Australia
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The strength within: The role of refugee community organisations in settlement

Defining refugee community organisations

Refugee community organisations are defined in many different ways in academic and other literature in the context of settlement – from referring to them through the use of the generic term “communities”, “refugee communities” or “ethnic communities”, to more explicit references to organisational structures, such as “immigrant organisations”, “ethno-specific organisations” or “ethnic community-based organisations”.

For the purposes of this paper, RCOA defines a refugee community organisation as any group, association or structure that is created by refugee and humanitarianentrants for the benefit of their own self-defined cultural community. In this way, they are different from settlement services that are formed to provide social services for refugee communities, although the two may not be mutually exclusive.

It is worth noting that how a cultural community defines itself is a dynamic, contested and fluid process, as evidenced by the way in which many organisations have an open and flexible approach to community membership. For example, communities may define themselves along or across language, ethnic, religious, gender, age or geographical lines.

This contested process of defining who a community organisation represents can lead to groups splintering into smaller communities (e.g. a language group from a particular country of origin and religious affiliation residing in a specific geographical area) or, conversely, expanding to incorporate multiple cultural communities (e.g. a pan- African or Middle Eastern community organisation).

There are hundreds if not thousands of refugee community organisations in Australia that are established by refugee and humanitarian entrants to provide important social, cultural and practical support to their own communities. These community organisations are established for a range of reasons, are structured in different ways and represent a vast array of interests and objectives – from formal ethno-specific community organisations providing funded settlement support, to legally incorporated interest groups advocating for their communities’ needs in Australia and overseas, to more informal social and cultural groups that come together for mutual support.

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