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

Life satisfaction and community connectedness

Life satisfaction and community connectedness

Building social connections

Refugee community groups and organisations can play an important role in addressing the isolation and disconnection experienced by many refugee and humanitarian entrants, particularly where English is a barrier to new arrivals forming wider social connections (Bloch 2002; Fozdar and Hartley 2012). This can be especially important where people feel like outsiders and in the context of experiences of racism and discrimination in the broader community (Pittaway and Muli 2009; Kenny et al 2005).

As research highlighted by VicHealth has found: “Belonging to a social network of communication and mutual obligation makes people feel cared for, loved, esteemed and valued. This has a powerful protective effect on health.” In social capital terms, commentators talk about the important role played by ethnic communities as potential facilitators of bridging and bonding social capital and in rebuilding social connections that have been shattered by war (Summerfield 1999; Ager and Strang 2008)

Supporting, reuniting and recreating families

Family separation is a common experience for refugee and humanitarian entrants in Australia. Refugee community organisations can play a number of important roles in supporting, reuniting or recreating family structures that are so pivotal to social connectedness and being able to settle well in Australia (RCOA 2011). Where individuals are without family supports, community networks can fill important gaps in terms of both material and emotional support (Dorais 1991; Bloch 2002).

As a Sudanese community member describes in one study: “At first being in Australia was bad because we had lost many relatives. After some time, the community develops; even if they are not relatives, they are considered as family.” For new and emerging communities, refugee community organisations can and do play an important and active role in sponsoring family members to reunite, for example, through the Special Humanitarian Program or by providing migration advice (e.g. help filling in visa application forms) and financial resources to facilitate family reunion.

Keeping people informed and connected

Some organisations provide up-to-date information to refugee community members on political conditions and incidents in country of origin. For refugee and humanitarian entrants with family remaining in dangerous situations overseas, access to reliable sources of information is often limited. Community organisations in Australia can have access to sources of information about recent events on the ground and shifts in policy which affect refugees and people seeking asylum. Communities share this information and analysis of it through regular updates (newsletters, briefs).

This is particularly relevant and valuable where there is ongoing conflict in the country of origin or asylum and access of family members to protection in these countries is either non-existent or inadequate. This is known to affect the wellbeing of community members and can, and often is, a serious impediment to settlement (for example, worrying about the safety of relatives affects the capacity of community members to go about their work or study).

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