Most young people from a refugee background consider themselves Australian – and Australia their home – according to a new study by University of South Australia researchers, being highlighted during Refugee Week.
The study explores perceptions of identity and belonging among 635 young people and their family members who have migrated to Australia from the Middle East, South Asia or Africa in the past 15 years.
Lead researcher, Professor Tahereh Ziaian says regardless of place of origin or citizenship status, most participants considered Australia their home for a range of reasons, including safety, opportunities and support available to them.
“An overwhelming number of refugees, even before becoming official citizens, labelled themselves as Australian,” Prof Ziaian says.
“This was the case for both young people and their families. Their hopes for their future have significantly increased after migration. They want to move forward, not dwell on the past. That was a powerful sentiment – to see just how eager refugee families are to integrate into society in Australia.
“Many also expressed appreciation and gratitude towards Australia and their desire to contribute and give back to the country that had given them a safe place to call home.”
During Refugee Week in Australia, Prof Ziaian says the study results offer all Australians an opportunity to reflect on how we can play a part in supporting refugees, and ultimately create a more inclusive and vibrant society.
“Our study reveals many young refugees experience challenges integrating into Australian society as the mainstream population isn’t as ready to accept them in the way they wholeheartedly want to be accepted,” she says.
“However, they are defying the odds, exceeding society’s expectations and proving they have the resilience to push through obstacles.
“Refugee Week is a chance for us to highlight the diverse makeup of the Australian population – 49 per cent of us were either born overseas or have a parent who was born overseas – and to make sure our society truly reflects and celebrates that diversity.
“Young refugees have enormous potential to enrich our culture and make a great contribution to Australian society.”
According to Prof Ziaian, there are a number of ways to help refugees settle in Australia, and that it involves looking at the bigger picture.
She says intercultural leadership at every level and an inclusive approach in service delivery would benefit everyone, not just those from refugee backgrounds.
“Intercultural leadership is a powerful tool in demonstrating how successful integration can work, as well as giving the minority a sense that they are included and welcome,” she says.
“This type of leadership shows how different values and traditions can exist together – and that this cultural diversity actually enriches our organisations and communities.
“Every one of us can contribute to an inclusive approach in our work and in our interactions with others. Incorporating an inclusive approach, building cultural competencies – this is something that should be in our school curriculum, it needs to be taught at universities and in employee induction programs.
“We know that roughly 50 per cent of Australians were either born overseas or their parents born overseas. If we want to do our jobs well – and meet the needs of diverse customers – we need to take an inclusive approach in all our interactions.”
The qualitative results of the study were published in Australian Psychologist and the Journal of Family Studies this year. The study is part of a larger investigation of education, employment and settlement outcomes among refugee-background youth funded by an Australian Research Council Linkage grant.
The researchers work closely with Australian Migrant Resource Centre and Multicultural Youth South Australia to support them in providing services that meet the needs of South Australia’s refugee community.