Displaced children in refugee camp
Many children have been traumatized by the violence that forced them to flee their homes. © UNHCR/ H.Caux

Settlement challenges

Leaving everything behind in one life and beginning another in a different country with different laws, different education and health systems, different languages and different cultural expectations requires a period of adjustment.

For people who seek asylum and refuge this process is all the more difficult due to the circumstances under which they depart their home country.

Some of the documented challenges that face people from refugee backgrounds in Australia are:

  • finding affordable housing
  • finding employment
  • language and communication barriers
  • racism and discrimination
  • community attitudes
  • impact of disrupted education on schooling
  • learning English
  • distance and lack of communication with families in the home country and/ or countries of asylum (particularly if/where the family remains in a conflict situation)
  • ongoing mental health issues due to trauma, including survivor guilt
  • financial difficulties
  • separation from family members; living in blended families
  • changes in roles and status of family members.

Impact on children

Young people also face particular challenges because of their age and experiences. They carry the scars of war and displacement with them. Sometimes children are forced to flee alone and arrive in Australia as unaccompanied minors.

Although children are very resilient some children experience:

  • physical and psychological effects of trauma
  • language and literacy difficulties due to disrupted or limited prior education
  • issues with identity and belonging
  • changing family responsibilities.

Specialist counselling may be required for students from refugee backgrounds upon settlement in a new country. In New South Wales support is offered through organisations such as the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Trauma and Torture Survivors (STARTTS).

Governments have a responsibility to provide on-arrival settlement support to people from refugee backgrounds in areas such as housing, health and education. For more information about the assistance provided for people from refugee backgrounds in Australia refer to Refugees in Australia.

More information

Pittaway, E 2008, We have a voice - hear us. The resettlement experience of Refugees from the Horn of Africa in Australia [PDF] - UNSW Forced Migration Research Network Occasional Paper No. 11 CRR/ANCORW Sydney

UNSW Forced Migration Research Network publications

Refugee Council of Australia Submissions (Family Support Programs for refugees and asylum seekers in Australia)

Watch UNSW Forced Migration Research Network - Celebrating Refugee Lives