Identification of strategies to assist refugee young people in transition to independence

Critical review of government policy and services

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Critical review of government policy and services

The following review aims to assess government policies, programs and services in terms of their impact or likely impact on young people from refugee backgrounds. The review is based on an analysis of all available federal policy documents (especially from the six key access and equity departments), a survey of pertinent literature and, most importantly, on the views of 17 ‘key informants’. Mention is made of the Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors Scheme, because, despite the diminished role of the scheme, it provides insights from past experience with the entry of unaccompanied humanitarian minors that serve to highlight important issues.
Policy focus and integration

Australia has some of the most comprehensive settlement policies and programs in the world. Onarrival services are particularly well developed. There is a commitment to regular evaluations and continuous improvement in program planning and delivery, and to explicitly integrate services across government departments through the National Integrated Settlement Strategy and the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy.

However, in refugee policy statements there is largely a silence about young people as a specific group. Our key informants were generally of the view that Australian social and youth policy is weak in its recognition of young refugee issues. Policies of general relevance to young refugees are of two main types: either general refugee policies or policies about young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. In the first type of policy, the implicit assumption is that refugees deserve special support that is sensitive to the specific experiences faced by refugees such as torture and trauma. Further, it is assumed that if families are supported and functional, then young people who are part of those families will have their needs addressed within the family unit.

An alternative policy position recognises that young people have specific needs notwithstanding the level of support they receive from their families, and that young people from diverse cultural backgrounds may need additional support and specialist services to ensure that their needs are adequately met in their transition to adulthood. Adolescence is a life stage and young people in this stage of life deserve culturally appropriate support from those who have expertise in understanding adolescents. But generic youth policy does not have the means to address the needs and disadvantaged position of young refugees.

The special needs of people who are both young and have a refugee experience are at serious risk of falling into the crevasses between the two policy positions. Existing refugee policy is blind to issues of youth, and existing youth policy is largely blind to issues associated with the refugee experience. This point is fundamental to the arguments in this report. As noted earlier, since the initial research and consultation was undertaken for this project, the Refugee Resettlement Advisory Council has developed a Refugee Youth Strategy. If acted upon, this strategy promises to put into specific focus the settlement needs of new arrivals with refugee experiences aged between 12 and 25 years.

In his seminal study evaluating government policy pertaining to refugees, Jupp (1994, p.14) notes that ‘there is little evidence that interdepartmental needsbased planning takes refugee needs specifically into account’. The National Integrated Settlement Strategy, the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy and Access and Equity Strategy have gone some way towards rectifying the problems noted by Jupp, especially in their promotion of inter-departmental planning and Commonwealth-wide responsibilities for supporting refugees.

Together, the National Integrated Settlement Strategy and particularly the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy represent the policy framework within which the settlement needs of young refugees are to be addressed. The ideas underpinning NISS appear sound; however, earlier evaluations raised some doubts about the effectiveness of the implementation of these policies. At the time the consultation was done for this study (largely in 1998), there was some doubt about the degree of government commitment to fully resourcing and implementing the strategy. At this time, the Commonwealth/State Ministerial Council of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs had not been convened and the (then) Interdepartmental Working Group on Migrant Settlement and Other Planning Issues went for almost two years without meeting in 1997 and 1998. An evaluation of NISS completed in 1996 revealed that although the strategy had been broadly successful in bringing together key players across different levels of government, it suffered from a low profile, optimal use was not made of several of its components and it was not well linked with other planning and policy development processes, including access and equity strategies (DIMA 1996b).

Key informants acknowledged the improvement in levels of integrated planning, yet none felt confident that young people’s needs were being adequately met under the NISS framework. Difficulties were seen to arise at the ground level where ‘integrated planning’ is translated from verbal and written agreements into action.

Coordination and case management

Individual case management was widely regarded as the most appropriate approach for addressing the needs of young refugees at the program level, and it was recognised by informants that several programs incorporated case management principles at least to some degree. Case management enables a focus on the whole person, allowing each young person to be viewed as part of a family, the wider service system, and in the context of an ethnic community network.

Good coordination and consistent support were seen to be the hallmarks of effective case management, usually enabled by the nomination of a primary caseworker. The diversity of the refugee community contributes to the complexity of individual cases and exacerbates problems of coordination. Effective coordination was seen to depend on high levels of shared knowledge across mainstream and specialist service providers and, to a large extent, on the personal knowledge base of individual workers (especially regarding eligibility criteria across a range of services). The achievement of satisfactory levels of cooperation and coordination, was seen to be obstructed by several circumstances, both political and practical:

  • Increased competition between agencies for increasingly limited funds tends to undermine cooperation.

  • When refugee clients arrive on short notice as can happen, practical coordination will be difficult even when the professional motivation to coordinate is strong.

  • Communication between refugee camps and internal bureaucracies may also be poor, thus hampering the effectiveness of on-arrival support services. Forging real partnerships based on common ground is probably the key to systemic change to improve coordination.

Beyond integrated planning, Jupp’s concerns about the paucity of needs-based approaches remain relevant. This is particularly evident in the case of eligibility for services.
Equity and effectiveness of eligibility criteria

Earlier in this chapter we explained the relationship between visa classification and eligibility for services. Certain groups of (young) people with refugee experiences were identified as having restricted access to mainstream and humanitarian settlement supports. Chapter 2 showed how the current visa system fails to reflect the strength of claims for humanitarian protection. Our interest in this section is with the inequitable treatment of young people with refugee experiences on the basis of their settlement support needs once in Australia.

Family reunion and the expectation of sponsor support

As explained in Chapter 2, refugee and humanitarian settlers appear to be relying increasingly on the Family Stream of the Migration Program as a means by which to sponsor close family members to Australia. This follows the declining opportunity for sponsoring family members under the Special Humanitarian Program which allows people with ‘close ties’ to Australia to obtain permanent residency on humanitarian grounds. Unlike the ‘family reunion’ provision under the SHP, sponsored and sponsoring parties under the Family Stream of the Migration Program receive no special consideration relating to their needs as refugees or people who have experienced ‘gross violation of human rights in their home country’.

The result is that people who have similar refugee experiences, do not receive equivalent treatment. Unlike entrants under the offshore Humanitarian Program, arrivals under the Migration Program are not exempted from the two-year waiting period for income support eligibility. The distinction arises because it is assumed that people who are already settled in Australia have adequate knowledge and resource bases to support those they sponsor. This assumption seems unreasonable for sponsors from refugee backgrounds. First, the settlement difficulties of the sponsors themselves need to be taken into account. Secondly, whereas in the past new arrivals of working age could be expected to find employment reasonably easily, this is no longer the case, particularly for young people, and the material demands on sponsors are consequently likely to be greater.

Sponsorship arrangements often do not work in the same way in the case of refugee and humanitarian entrants. Sponsors may feel desperate to secure the safety of family members trapped in refugee-producing situations and sponsor family members even though their resources are limited. Sponsors are often reticent to notify authorities of an inability to cope with the financial burden of sponsorship, fearing negative repercussions for themselves and the people they have helped migrate to Australia. Chapter 4 drew attention to the particular difficulties experienced by young people as both sponsoring and sponsored parties.

While Special Benefit may be made available to young people whose sponsorship arrangements have broken down, this is the exception rather than the rule, and access relies on a familiarity with the income support system that many young refugees do not have.15 Existing arrangements do not take into account the known difficulties refugee people have in accessing mainstream services and ‘negotiating’ the income support system. This suggests the need for a mechanism whereby exemption from the Newly- Arrived Resident’s Waiting Period is activated more automatically for family migrants sponsored by humanitarian and refugee settlers, in recognition of the greater risk of hardship among this group. Another possibility is to increase the number of places available under the Special Humanitarian Program which would extend the more appropriate terms and conditions of this program to a larger number of new ‘family reunion’ arrivals. If expansion of the SHP was done by separating the respective quotas for the onshore and offshore components of the Humanitarian Program, the vicious circle created by the interrelation of diminishing opportunities for authorised family reunion and increased risk-taking resulting in unauthorised arrivals would be intercepted.

Unauthorised arrival: need vs deterrent

In general terms, eligibility for income support is determined on the basis of residency status. Few would argue with this as a general principle. However, the logic of the links between migration visa categories and eligibility for government assistance has been severely eroded since the introduction of the temporary protection visa (TPV). This visa was designed in response to the large increases in the numbers of asylum seekers arriving on Australia’s shores without authorisation at the end of the 1990s. Allocation of a temporary rather than a permanent protection visa reflects the way in which those claiming protection arrived in the country and the choices they made en route, not the legitimacy or otherwise of their claims for refugee status and not their relative needs for support once in Australia. By definition these visas give holders ‘temporary’ status as residents; it is not intended that people under the terms and conditions of TPVs settle and make Australia their home. It may be argued on this basis that young people on temporary protection visas should not be considered as part of a target population for strategies to assist settlement and long-term independence. The consequences of this argument are particularly hard on these young people. Even if TPV holders only stay in Australia for the initial three-year period allowed by their visa, this is a significant length of time, particularly for adolescents, since it comes at a stage in life when people are expected to gain the skills and experience to support themselves as adults later on.

The penalty for unlawful arrival in Australia seems particularly unjust when applied to people who, as minors, had little choice in the matter. A precedent for this recognition currently exists (from July 2001) in the Special Eligibility Stream of the Migration Program. Under this provision, minors who originally entered or remained in Australia unlawfully with their family, and who can show ‘close ties’ to the country having spent their formative years here, are able to access permanent residency on the basis that their unauthorised arrival was due to the unlawful activities of their family and ‘through no fault of their own’ (see Chapter 2). In years to come, asylum seekers who arrived in Australia at the beginning of the 21st century may also qualify for similar treatment. Unfortunately, this retrospective acknowledgment of lack of blame could not undo the damage done by restricting entitlements and withholding legitimacy at an earlier date. This suggests that an ‘as if’ principle should apply in the case of young people, that is, an assumption that they are going to be living indefinitely in Australia and, as such, should be assured access to education, English language and, where relevant, employment and other mainstream supports from the outset.

A needs-based approach

Key informants felt that the allocation of resources on the basis of past entry status and visa classification, rather than current need and the legitimacy of claims for humanitarian concern and protection, is misplaced. Current arrangements were seen to cause considerable hardship for those affected and to reflect fundamental inequities in the allocation of resources. Most believed a review of eligibility criteria for government assistance to be long overdue. There was a strong preference for a needs-based approach to determining eligibility, though there were different ideas as to what this might mean in practice. The problem with eligibility criteria was alternatively diagnosed as insufficient attention to individualised assessment of need, or insufficient flexibility in determining eligibility because of the automatic link between entitlement and visa classification. Development of a needs-based approach will require difficult negotiation between sometime conflicting government goals – those relating to population policy, border protection policy, settlement policy and youth policy.

Settlement policy and government expenditure

In summary, there are strong equity grounds for ensuring that young people with refugee experiences are eligible for government assistance on the basis of need, rather than visa category. The current system is not only unfair, it is also likely to be contrary to a more strategic approach towards settlement. Settlement policy for refugees is premised on an understanding that timely and comprehensive support in the early stages of settlement will help ensure successful longerterm settlement and hence reduced government intervention and financial outlay in the longer term.16 Under current arrangements, however, refugee young people are denied access to basic services and entitlement when they first arrive in Australia that may be critical to their longer-term independence.

Informants argued that a key principle in settlement policy should be to ensure young people are adequately supported once resident in Australia whether on a temporary or permanent basis. This has implications for government expenditure. If the level of humanitarian entry remains constant, a needs-based approach to eligibility for government assistance and services would increase expenditure and social security outlay in the short-term. For example, a needs-based approach might entail extension of eligibility for mainstream income support to TPV holders and a more flexible policy regarding exemption from the two-year waiting period for income support for Family Stream migrants joining refugee sponsors in Australia. One response consistent with a commitment to ensuring adequate support for all young refugees who are resident in Australia, would be to limit intake to compensate for the additional expenditure. Aside from the negative humanitarian implication of reducing intake, the longer-term economic outcomes of this approach are not necessarily positive. This is particularly evident in the case of family reunion. Where resident in Australia, immediate and extended family often provide a range of material and psychological supports to young people that are critical to their successful settlement and which in turn reduce the need for intensive government assistance at a later date (see Morrissey, Mitchell & Rutherford 1991). From this perspective, family reunion should be seen as an integral part of a strategic policy for long-term settlement. Larger refugee communities do not necessarily require greater government expenditure over the longer-term. Again, the rationale for more generous and inclusive support in the early stages of settlement is clearly even stronger with respect to younger people who may live in Australia for many more years.
Consultation with refugee young people

Informants commonly felt that existing consultation processes meant that older refugees tended to speak on behalf of younger refugees. These difficulties are compounded when community leaders (or those who Anglo-Australians feel comfortable relating to as community leaders) are encouraged to speak in general terms about the needs experienced across the entire migrant community. Parental understanding of the needs of young refugees often takes precedence over young people’s own perspectives. A parental perspective is more likely to orient towards a traditional way of life – a source of much intergenerational conflict in refugee communities. Young people lack appropriate opportunities to articulate their own needs. It was noted in Chapter 4 that, particularly when they first arrive, refugees are often extremely reticent to articulate their needs or to be seen to ungrateful for any help they receive. Youth workers are often ill equipped to advocate on their behalf. This problem is entrenched by the noted tendency to devalue advocacy work in comparison with direct service provision. As a consequence, young people’s self-articulated needs are generally under-represented in mainstream consultation processes.
Level and distribution of financial resources

Finally, informants drew attention to the inadequacy of financial resources to support young refugees – a circumstance attributed to the limited policy focus on this client group. The distribution of existing resources was also regarded by some to be inequitable. In particular, it was claimed that funding is not distributed in accordance with the settlement patterns of humanitarian entrants. Areas with larger populations of people from refugee backgrounds should reasonably expect to attract more resources than other areas. Notwithstanding this, a special needs allocation may be required for high-need communities with an impoverished social service infrastructure or communities with significantly high rates of unemployment, even when numbers of humanitarian entrants in these areas are low. Rural communities are an example. It is unclear how rational the distribution of funds is given the distribution of need.
Cross-cultural sensitivity and understanding

The general lack of cultural sensitivity and knowledge in the program environment was noted as a limitation of current programs. Social programs operate in a societal context of less than optimal understanding and tolerance of ‘non-mainstream’ cultural traditions.

Community sensitivity to the diversity of need among refugee entrants to Australia is limited by stereotypes based on assumptions about ethnicity – that all people from a particular country share basically the same culture and history. It is important to recognise, for example, that many Tamils from Sri Lanka, unlike Singhalese people, may prefer not to be referred to as Sri Lankan but have their own sense of national identity. Similarly, Khmer and Ethnic Chinese people from Cambodia hold quite distinct and different cultural identities. The same issue arises between many Kurds and the national identities implied by Turkish or Iraqi citizenship. Ongoing community education is needed to raise awareness of these issues.

Moreover, community anxiety about levels of immigration and, in particular, Australia’s international responsibility towards refugees, has become particularly pronounced in recent years. The broader context in which programs and services are implemented is a particularly volatile one at the current time and it is important for government and senior political figures to show leadership. Debate on asylum seekers dominated the federal election in November 2001. What became known as the ‘children overboard’ incident just prior to the election strongly points to an unfortunate political opportunism in the most senior ranks of government in taking advantage of public anxiety surrounding asylum seekers. The then Minister for Defence, the Minister for Immigration, and the Prime Minister himself expressed moral outrage at the actions of refugees who had allegedly thrown children out of a boat into rough seas in order to pressure the Australian navy into giving them asylum. If nothing else, the incident demonstrated all too clearly a readiness among our most senior politicians to believe the worst of asylum seekers, particularly in a context where there are political points to be won. What sort of families, it was asked, would do that to their children? The allegations were later revealed to be false, and the photographs apparently verifying the original allegations shown to depict a different occasion when both adults and children were in the water because their boat was sinking. It is not surprising in this political context that there has also been a failure to properly inform and educate the public as to the circumstances of people from refugee backgrounds.

On-arrival services

Policy, planning and on-arrival services are strong points of Australia’s resettlement program. The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs has accumulated significant experience and expertise in providing these services over time. Not everyone consulted was positive about on-arrival services. Some argued that the decentralisation of settlement services has resulted in reduced access. Decentralised services are more difficult to sustain within the constant restructuring of the service system and become too fragmented to be highly effective. Another criticism was that on-arrival services were not sufficiently flexible. While on-arrival services are appropriate for the provision of generalist assistance for all humanitarian arrivals, they usually exclude people whose sponsor relationships have broken down. Such people can fall through the net and fail to receive support services, an outcome that has particularly worrying implications for the longer-term settlement of young people.

The Community Refugee Settlement Scheme was seen to be in need of reform. Informants highlighted the need for improved selection of voluntary groups and greater emphasis on their capacity to develop and maintain links with community organisations as a selection criterion. It was argued that an extensive and compulsory training program should be delivered to all new groups. Since the time of these consultations, a new program, Community Support for Refugees (CSR) has been established to work alongside the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy. This program includes training for volunteers (see description earlier in this chapter).

On-arrival services are subject to a clear demarcation of responsibility between government departments, a feature that may contribute to their success. Post-settlement services, on the other hand, are by nature inter-sectoral and such demarcation may be counterproductive. The question of responsibility, within and between government departments, for the welfare of refugee young people beyond the initial settlement phase, was identified by key informants as a particularly sensitive area.

Ethno-specific and ‘mainstream’ services

There are a number of more controversial issues in the debate about policies and programs, however, that have implications for the effective support of refugee young people. An ongoing source of tension is the question of whether it is better to develop ethnospecific services, or to encourage mainstream agencies to support a wide range of different ethnic communities. In an ideal world, mainstream services would provide appropriate services responsive to all who need them. But in reality, ethno-specific services may be needed to provide direct services to their constituents especially in the early stages of settlement, and then to provide information about mainstream services to their clients so that they may begin to use the broader community services system like other groups. Ethnospecific services are in an excellent position to understand the needs of their own community. On the other hand, they are more likely to adopt a parental perspective on need. They may also be unstable and fragile in a volatile political environment. Ethnospecific workers are not necessarily trained or skilled in understanding issues associated with adolescence or working with young people.

Referral to torture and trauma services

A Bosnian young woman attending an inner urban school was acting out. She was referred to a school psychologist, and the psychologist did not identify specific factors contributing to the presenting problem. It later emerged that the young woman was a survivor of torture, and her behavioural difficulties were clearly related to these experiences. Despite this new information coming to light, the psychologist did not recognise the appropriateness of making a referral to a torture and trauma specialist service, believing that her health problems could be handled within the school.

Mainstream services can complement ethno-specific services by ensuring subsequent service provision in the longer-term. Mainstreaming, as a policy, is limited to the extent that it represents a reduction in choice and provides insufficient recognition of the importance of cross-cultural expertise. Directing additional support to mainstream services also runs the risk of lessening accountability – that monies otherwise earmarked specifically for refugees may contribute to mainstream programs that do not actually provide quality services to refugees. To ensure such organisations provide services to refugee young people, a condition of some of their funding could be a requirement to provide services to disadvantaged groups, with realistic targets and performance indicators for service delivery written into service agreements.

Realistically, a combination of ethno-specific services and mainstreaming is probably required. Ethno-specific services may be the first port of call for new arrivals, but mainstream services are perhaps best placed to follow up identified needs at a later stage.

Like ethno-specific services, some special-needs services are required alongside mainstream services. Youth services are at times inappropriately treated as specialist services. Although special-needs services risk contributing to the marginalisation of people with legitimate needs, tacking ‘special services’ funding onto core services does not, of itself, ensure that organisations are adequately prepared with appropriate resources, expertise and commitment to meet special needs.

Contracting out

A second controversial issue is the contracting out of services, particularly given the perceived tendency for performance to be measured against inappropriate criteria. Services operate in a funding environment which is outcomes focused and geared to maximise cost-effectiveness, but many service providers believe that such a strict market philosophy has serious limitations when applied to universal service provision, or to high-need groups within the community. The benefits associated with the contracting out of services are increased flexibility and enhanced capacity for developing holistic approaches. There is no inherent contradiction between access and equity objectives and cost-effectiveness. The major challenge for service providers arising from this situation is probably how they can best affect cultural change in management practices in order to engage constructively with the imperatives of contracting out.

The remainder of this chapter looks at the strengths and weakness of specific program or service areas.

Education and training opportunities

Schools represent the one universal institution in the community services infrastructure. Refugee young people can be reached through schools, and schools are well placed to provide prevention and early intervention support services (Chamberlain & MacKenzie 1998). Several key informants suggested that up to 80% of the resources available to young refugees should be directed through schools, preferably through fullservice schools capable of providing referral, information and a range of support services to their students. While this is an important policy suggestion with general value for all young people as well as young refugees, such services would tend not to reach the 18- to 25-year-olds who have left school (although school-based strategies do not necessarily prevent nonstudents from accessing services on school premises).

Several concerns were raised about education policy, programs and services including suggestions that:

  • Interpreters are under-utilised in educational settings.

  • A review of fair discipline policy in secondary schools is urgently required, especially in light of anecdotal evidence that young refugees are being expelled at a higher rate than their Anglo- Australian counterparts. (Terms of reference for such a review should include investigation into parental involvement in school and children’s education, the nature and extent of fear of authority among young refugees, and accountability requirements for implementation of discipline policies.)

  • Inequitable treatment of asylum seekers is perpetuated within the education system.

  • Young people aged 18–24 years are underserviced, especially in Victoria where they are not counted (for funding purposes) if attending secondary school at Year 10 or below. The purpose of this exclusion is to encourage older students to attend TAFE (for which fees are payable). When educational needs are first assessed, some 18- to 19-year-olds slip through a gap in service provision, needing the security and formality of a secondary school environment, perhaps being well educated in their home country but having insufficient English language skills to cope with the demands of Year 11. Difficulties in placing 18- and 19-year-olds in the Australian system suggest that those aged 18 or over need supplementary services to guarantee access to English language tuition and secondary education.

  • Funding for the education of refugee young people has a short-term focus. More funding should be made available for extended and intensive provision of education support that includes but is not restricted to ESL training.

A major ongoing issue for educational policy is balancing age and skill level as the main determinants for where best to place young people in schools. Currently, age-appropriate placements are usually made for junior secondary school, whereas entry to senior secondary school is generally dependent on skill-based assessment. Age-appropriate placements, however, can result in limited pathways into employment and may compromise access to work over the longer-term. For example, in Victoria, at Year 10 level, students who are not achieving can be kept down as part of the screening process for Years 11 and 12. This can either function as a bottleneck in the system, when age-appropriate placements suddenly stop at Year 10 or, in the event that students are allowed to continue graduating, students may become discouraged and frustrated at their inability to cope, and drop out at a high rate. Alternative educational options at Year 10 level for those who are not coping with ageappropriate work are mostly short-term and externally funded. The open marketing of schools increases the problem because schools are more reliant than ever before on the pass rates of Year 11 and Year 12 students in order to attract students in the future.17

Another issue raised during consultations was that young refugees are generally not well placed to take advantage of new opportunities for apprenticeships and traineeships. Recruitment for these types of positions often happens through family and community networks. Local history can play an important part in determining which applicant is ultimately successful and young refugees are rarely part of these community networks. It was suggested that these factors need to be considered in selection processes.

Income support

Three major concerns about income support policy were raised during the consultations:

  • The treatment of asylum seekers and those issued temporary protection visas is unfair and undermines the potential for successful settlement in cases where affected individuals are allowed to remain in Australia (see discussion of eligibility criteria earlier in this chapter).

  • The application of the two-year waiting period in the case of family members sponsored by recent humanitarian and refugee entrants under the Family Stream of the Migration Program results is inequitable and potentially undermines chances for successful settlement (see discussion of eligibility criteria earlier in this chapter).

  • The potentially negative impact of Youth Allowance for young people with refugee experiences. There was a concern that some marginalised young people under the age of 18 who did not satisfy the Youth Allowance activity test would be left without income support. It was anticipated by some informants that young people with refugee experiences would be overrepresented in this group. At the time this study was conducted, no quantitative evidence was available to either confirm or disconfirm this expectation. Under Youth Allowance, young people under 18 who have not completed Year 12 or equivalent are generally required to be in full-time study or training to qualify for the payment (DFaCS 2001, p.17). However, an exemption can be made from this requirement (see discussion of income support earlier in this chapter). Young people with low levels of proficiency in English could undertake an English as a Second Language (ESL) course, to satisfy the Youth Allowance activity test. It should also be noted that an exemption from the activity test may be given if the young person has special circumstances.

Youth Allowance brought with it the abolition of unemployment benefits for those aged 18 years and under, although exemptions may be granted to young people with limited English skills, providing they undertake English language training. Marginalised young people, who drop out of school before turning 18 and do not satisfy criteria to be classified as homeless, yet who are detached from family support, may be left without income support. There was a concern that young refugees may be over-represented in this group although no quantitative evidence is available to confirm this expectation.
Health services

In the mental health sector, the network of torture and trauma services is advanced, and has been significantly improved over recent years. The main problem affecting service provision relevant to torture and trauma is that resources are insufficient to meet existing needs. The report Mental Health for Multicultural Australia (Australian Transcultural Mental Health Network 1993) highlighted the following problems:

  • The work of torture and trauma services is largely ad hoc and points to the need for a national strategic approach.

  • Contact between the various service providers in inadequate.

  • There is no physical centre to enable workers from the relevant mental health disciplines to meet in order to develop coherent clinical, research and education programs; transmit skills; or access bibliographic and other resources, research advice and assistance.

In mainstream agencies, the lack of knowledge about mental health issues, especially torture and trauma, is pronounced, and so referrals to torture and trauma services are infrequent.

At the same time, some informants were concerned about the over-diagnosis of mental health problems in young refugees, most notably in the case of posttraumatic stress disorder. Sometimes mental health labels are a convenient way of marginalising normal responses to events because of behaviour that is rarely found in the broader mainstream community.

The following key concerns were raised in relation to general health services for young refugees:

  • Networking between health systems and other non-government organisations seems relatively underdeveloped.

  • Delivery of health services is predominantly informed by a medical model of practice. This model is particularly limited with respect to working with young refugees, because it tends to underestimate the importance of establishing trust and rapport with young people who have suffered refugee-like experiences and, more broadly, overlooks the need to develop culturally sensitive ways to approach young people.

  • Inadequate attention is given to establishing dental health services relevant to young refugees, although NSW Dental Services is currently drafting a Refugee Dental Care Policy (NSW Department of Health 1997) and have targeted humanitarian entrants as a special needs group in the delivery of public dental care.

  • Culturally relevant drug and alcohol treatment services, especially detoxification units, are not available.

In summary, the understanding that underpins Australia’s provision of services for people who have experienced torture and trauma is advanced by world standards. No major change in direction is required. The pressing issue is whether program resources are sufficient to provide effective support to meet refugee need. Drug and alcohol services were generally not regarded as culturally sensitive, whereas sexual health services and dental health services were not perceived as accessible.
Employment support services

Securing employment is crucial for refugees to make a successful transition to independence. How well the new arrangements of Job Network, the Job Seeker Classification Instrument, corporatised public provision of employment support and competing private providers of employment support deal with the needs of young people with refugee experiences is still largely an unknown.

The Job Placement and Employment Training (JPET) program has been widely acknowledged as a program with great potential to assist young refugees. The potential of JPET is seen to arise from its commitment to holism and flexibility in program design. The program is not narrowly focused on predefined and short-term service ‘outcomes’, and ongoing support can be provided to service users over an extended period.

Concerns were raised about the following:

  • Lack of appropriate training for Centrelink staff, such that at risk-refugee young people are not identified, inadequately assessed or not referred to appropriate employment service providers.

  • Inadequate resources to assist refugee young people into employment.

  • Inadequate information about career pathways and options.

  • Structural barriers to employment, most notably bias and racism exhibited by potential employers and the devaluing of biliteracy and bicultural skills.

  • Recognition of overseas qualifications remains slow and inefficient, despite frequent criticisms and almost as frequent attempts to upgrade the processes involved. The recognition of refugee qualifications is a very difficult and timeconsuming matter. More attention could usefully be given to introducing interim measures that improve access to retraining programs, explicitly acknowledging the stress caused by lack of documentation.

Justice and law

Support services for young refugees in difficulty with the law are thin on the ground. Inadequate information about the extent and nature of the relationship between refugee young people and the juvenile justice system makes it difficult to argue for or plan effective support services. Official statistics about refugee youth and crime are complex because of different state laws, different definitions of youth, a very weak capacity to identify refugees among the offending population (except perhaps through crude measures like country of birth or surname), and differing law enforcement responses. The complexity of these issues is heightened by unreported or undetected crimes.

Cunneen (1995, p.119) notes that the central problem with official data is that it is ‘limited to the end point of the system’. Data may provide some detail on incarcerated populations but do not extend to the reasons why individuals were incarcerated, or whether police and sentencing practices were strictly equitable. The assumption that the process from the point of detection and arrest through to incarceration treats all ethnic and cultural groups equally bears further investigation.

The need for cultural sensitivity and awareness applies as much to personnel in the criminal justice system as to other service providers. This is particularly important for police officers responsible for much of the front-line work. Community liaison divisions within police departments require relevant and up-todate information about the needs and experiences of young refugees. Some states have implemented strategies to inform police departments about the needs of refugee young people, although these initiatives have been piecemeal. Anecdotes told by a number of the young people and informants consulted suggest there is still scope for significant improvement in police relations with young refugees and ethnic communities more generally. Apart from training, the recruitment of non Anglo-Australian police officers would be another important longer-term strategy toward achieving this goal.

Further concerns about the relationship of refugee young people to the law include:

  • Failure to disseminate and target information about the law, legal procedures, rights and obligations to young people from refugee backgrounds.

  • Inability of legal and correctional institutions to deal effectively with the specific issues facing young refugees, particularly because limited cross-cultural training is offered to staff in these institutions. Keys Young (1997) discussed a range of strategies to tackle this problem.


Housing is another crucial element in the successful transition to independence. Without appropriate housing, the likelihood of family breakdown increases and the cultural support network around a young person is jeopardised. At the time the initial research for this study was carried out, newly arrived refugee entrants were generally allocated a flat by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs or accommodation in the community (under the Community Refugee Settlement Scheme). The term of On-Arrival Accommodation was from 13 weeks to a maximum of six months. The young people consulted in this project were mostly positive about these options. Previous studies have also found that refugees generally spoke favourably about On-Arrival Accommodation (Francis 1996).

The first thing I remember about Australia was that the apartment was so nice. We heard many stories that the Immigration Department’s accommodation would be like barracks, a dirty place. We were just hoping that it would not be that dirty, but it was really good, great to have a nice flat for the first three months (Bosnian refugee, female, aged 22).

However, this accommodation support was only available to Convention refugees; Special Humanitarian Program entrants were expected to receive assistance from their proposers. The On-Arrival Accommodation program was phased out with the implementation of the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy in 2001. Under the strategy, all offshore humanitarian entrants assessed as being in need of accommodation support are provided with housing on arrival and are given assistance to enable transition to appropriate longer-term accommodation as soon as possible. This assistance includes a package of basic household items. Under the strategy, a period of only four weeks is allotted to new arrivals in which to find longer-term accommodation, although this may be extended an additional four weeks where necessary. The impact of this change has yet to be assessed.

Three main concerns were raised about housing policy and services. First, there is a perception that the housing sector perpetuates an Anglo-centric approach to the issue of what constitutes appropriate housing services. Innovative models of housing service provision need to be developed. Options like ethnospecific housing, communal housing for extended families, different configurations of private and living space to suit the cultural preferences of residents have been given little attention, and more creative thinking on the part of program designers is desirable. What is considered ‘over-crowding’ by Western standards may be culturally acceptable or even preferred in some non- Western cultures. At the same time, when acculturating to their peer group at a faster rate than their parents or carers, young refugees can be torn between two cultures and resent the forced sharing of space. In other words, there may be different levels of cultural acceptability even within a single household.

Concerns were also expressed about the national Supported Accommodation and Assistance Program (SAAP). These related to the lack of inter-cultural expertise in support for young refugees, the separation of management and support functions, and inflexibility in how case management is implemented. Few SAAP services have developed inter-cultural expertise to work with clients from ethnically diverse backgrounds and most of those that have, provide only long-term housing options. Emergency accommodation suitable for young refugees is rarely available. Given the extent of homelessness in the young refugee population, this is indicative of significant unmet need for emergency housing services. Ethno-specific targeting of services is discouraged by the SAAP administration. Only 3% of services specifically target people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds; however, it is clear that where targeting occurs, people have better service access. Targeting is more common in Western Australia (4.4%) than in any other state, and Western Australia also has the highest proportion of people from non- English speaking backgrounds among service users (12% of the total). As states with large proportions of young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds, New South Wales and Victoria must be encouraged to ensure that services begin targeting these young people, as a matter of some urgency.

There is little or no training within SAAP to improve staff sensitivity to issues surrounding the experience of young refugees. Nonetheless, some communities have initiated their own strategies to promote access and equity in SAAP services (see Nguyen 1997). In Victoria, separation of the management of SAAP crisis accommodation from transitional housing may disadvantage young refugee clients simply because what was formerly under one agency must now be negotiated between two. An obvious inefficiency is that the cost of employing interpreters has now increased. Finally, greater flexibility is required in determining appropriate caseloads for SAAP staff. It is important that workers feel able to negotiate a lower caseload when working with highneed service users such as young refugees.

A third concern was the mismatch between the housing stock available for private rental and the demand from refugee families. Refugee families are often large by Anglo-Australian standards. Some African families may have six, eight or even ten children but a family of this size is no longer common in mainstream Australia. Options for cost sharing, which those in financial hardship may wish to pursue, are generally not open to these larger families. In summary, there is a shortage of appropriate, cheap private rental. This market failure points to the necessity of government intervention. There is a case for improving community and public housing access for refugees, perhaps using a segmented waiting list approach for this group.

Antonios (1994) identified a further problem in relation to housing for refugees. She argues that refugees have a particular need for public housing that is inadequately provided for under the Commonwealth-State Housing Agreement. By not requiring uniform access and equity provision from the states, the agreement effectively enables the ‘disjointed and haphazard approach’ within state housing authorities to continue (Antonios 1994, p.38). The absence of systematic collection of ethnicity data by state housing authorities makes it difficult to assess their capacity to meet the needs of refugees, but anecdotal evidence suggests priority for refugee and humanitarian settlers is often overlooked.

Language services

Currently, some schools host English Language Centres for new arrivals. It is more common, however, for schools to run English as a Second Language (ESL) programs. ESL policy is distinct from language centre policy in most schools. ESL programs tend to offer longer-term assistance, up to four terms of intensive English language tuition for new settlers. Extensions of time are negotiable and argued on a case by case basis. This arrangement compares favourably to the Adult Migrant English Program, which can offer only 510 hours in English language tuition to new arrivals. TAFE colleges often deliver Adult Migrant English Programs, but the exact nature of services offered varies considerably from institution to institution.

While language services have improved in recent years, some specific concerns were raised:

  • Overall levels of funding for both ESL programs and English Language Centres are insufficient to service existing needs.

  • ESL programs have image problems and suffer from low status. Shared resources, minimal autonomy and marginalised status are the hallmarks of ESL programs. In Queensland, for example, where mainstreaming is the norm, ESL programs in secondary schools are not allocated support staff. In Victoria, Schools of the Future are in a position to decide how to spend available resources and ESL programs may not be able to compete effectively with other higher status options, such as music or physical education. State departments of education could adopt a more interventionist approach to protect ESL programs, for example by encouraging schools to publish pass rates, and providing incentives to accept students from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds.

  • The maximum 510 hours of English language learning under the Adult Migrant English Program is insufficient for many young people to acquire the basic language skills needed to gain employment.

  • Intensive language support is generally not provided prior to entry into secondary education or English Language Centres. Language difficulties experienced by young people can be compounded if not noticed and addressed at the earliest possible opportunity.

  • There is continuing over-reliance on young people as family interpreters, and this is inappropriate in all but the most straightforward of dealings.

  • The problem of multiple languages within families is not adequately addressed.

  • Workers in mainstream organisations tend to receive very little training in the use of interpreters.

A notable strength of the Australian system relates to the structuring and regulation of the interpreter profession including an accreditation process for interpreters. In the United Kingdom, in contrast, there is no code of ethics for interpreters and no formal accreditation.

Rado and D’Cruz (1994) suggest that the focus of literacy tuition in Australia is undergoing a slow but steady cultural shift towards an increasing recognition of biliteracy as an appropriate goal. They argue ‘If Australia wants to enter the international market, the greater the number of citizens who are biliterate, the greater the advantage to the individual and the nation’ (1994, p.xiii).

Support for high-needs groups

Certain groups of young people within the population of young refugees are likely, by dint of their premigration, migration and/or arrival experiences, to have more acute, wide-ranging or more urgent needs during their resettlement.
Unaccompanied humanitarian minors

Unaccompanied refugee minors generally require intensive levels of support. Zulfacar (1984) has argued for a comprehensive, coordinated pattern of service provision for unaccompanied minors, expressing concern about their severely disadvantaged position relative to other young migrants.

There were a total of 218 young people in the Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors Scheme at May 2001. (This Scheme is outlined in Chapter 2.) Just under half (48%) arrived in Australia without authorisation and were subsequently granted temporary protection visas. Despite the fact that some new support services have been established, Hartley and Anderson (1998) argue that these services have had ‘limited success in providing ways for many of these young people to establish firm attachments to mainstream groups and institutions’. Key informants further argued that:

  • It is inappropriate to link the Unsupported Humanitarian Minors Scheme with protective services, as happens in some states.

  • The implications for refugee minors of the contracting out of child protection services in Victoria need to be investigated.

  • Supervision for protective workers in some states is inadequate.

The scheme was relatively flexible and had a long, mostly successful history. Its key strength was that, on arrival, assessments to determine the suitability of parent or guardian options could be conducted jointly by federal and state departments. This helped promote more coordinated approaches to service provision, particularly important where care arrangements are not working. Regardless of whether minors are actively targeted for resettlement under the offshore Humanitarian Program, those that do arrive will need additional assistance.
Young asylum seekers and refugees with temporary resident status

Asylum seekers can easily be overlooked in a discussion of the impact of government policies, programs and services for refugees. Asylum seekers are people who claim protection under the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees while already in Australia. As noted, asylum seekers who arrive in Australia without the necessary documentation are deemed ‘unauthorised arrivals’ and are subject to mandatory detention until their claims are processed. Asylum seekers who arrived initially on valid visas and who remain in the community when making their claim for refugee status also have restricted access to services in Australia. Asylum seekers can generally access schooling and basic health care and may obtain income support from the Red Cross (under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme) but they are not allocated a caseworker to assist them access available supports. Access to services is often determined on presentation of a bridging visa. However, a bridging visa takes effect only after the original visa has expired leaving some people without needed support in the meantime.

Particularly for young people who are kept in detention, the period when claims for protection are being processed is one of indefinite waiting and uncertainty. It comes at a stage in life when, aside from enjoying the supposedly ‘carefree years of youth’, young Australians are expected to take advantage of educational opportunities, to make themselves employable and generally to develop good living skills. Young asylum seekers are clearly not in a position to prepare for the future in this way. Further, the psychological impact of detention on young people already traumatised by past persecution and the hazardous journey to Australia, is likely to be considerable. Overall, the response of the Federal Government to these young people can be seen to undermine rather than increase their chances of long-term adjustment, whether they become residents of Australia or another country.

Once a claim for refugee status has been granted, a former asylum seeker’s eligibility for services again ultimately depends on how they first arrived in Australia: with or without valid documentation and whether or not they are seen to have bypassed possible asylum en route to Australia. The entitlements of unauthorised refugee arrivals were outlined in Table 8.

Australia’s response to asylum seekers has been challenged on the basis of non-conformity with the United Nation’s Convention on the Rights of the Child and the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. Australia is a signatory to the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, which sets down the international policy context for supporting young people. Australia’s failure to adhere to the terms of this convention has been alleged on the grounds that:

  • Young asylum seekers are detained for long periods. The detention of unauthorised arrivals is currently mandatory in Australia, and access to the judicial review of detention is restricted.18

  • The conditions of detention are inadequate on several counts (HREOC 1998). Detainees have restricted access to services, including legal services.

  • Young asylum seekers in the community are ineligible for English language tuition in secondary schools (in some states).

  • The Australian legal system does not assess claims for refugee status from children (those under the age of 18). The validity of young people’s refugee experiences is not explicitly recognised independent of other family members. Sometimes the young person is the persecuted member of the family, even when parents are not. This can happen where there is under-age conscription into the military.

Australia’s response to unauthorised arrivals has been condemned by Amnesty International (Khan 2002), the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1998) and other human rights advocates, church leaders and community agencies. As early as 1995, Ludbrook (1995, p.109) concluded that Australia’s treatment of selected young asylum seekers is ‘harsh, culturally insensitive and in breach of international human rights conventions’. The number of critics has increased since then, following new border protection legislation, the establishment of offshore Immigration Reception and Processing Centres and ‘safe haven’ and temporary protection visas. In 2002, concern over the treatment of asylum seekers, particularly the policy of mandatory detention, was of sufficient magnitude to provoke the first-ever visit from Amnesty International’s Secretary General to draw attention to human rights violations within Australia (Khan 2002).

Examination of the predicament of young asylum seekers held in Immigration Reception and Processing Centres and those subject to the conditions of bridging and temporary protection visas was largely beyond the scope of this report. These are clearly areas that require attention.


The de facto policy framework for supporting young refugees is based on the Access and Equity Strategy, the National Integrated Settlement Strategy, and particularly the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy. The key issue is how well access and equity policies translate into adequate support to meet the needs of young refugees.

The principal shortcomings of policies and programs affecting young people with refugee experiences were identified as:

  • the absence of generic policy specifically addressing the needs of young refugees;

  • general lack of coordination (on the ground) and integration (in policy and planning processes);

  • inadequate resources, especially financial resources, to meet the needs of young refugees and, more specifically, to finance the additional collaboration necessary to achieve integrated service provision;

  • unresolved issues of access and equity, especially regarding eligibility for services;

  • a lack of awareness and cultural sensitivity regarding the diverse needs of refugees, both in the program context and in the wider society;

  • inequities in the distribution of resources which can disadvantage newer communities, young people and/or areas attracting the greatest number of new arrivals; and

  • an absence of successful protocols for consulting with young refugees and ensuring their input.

The key strengths of current policies and programs were identified as follows:

  • the existence of a sophisticated array of programs, especially at the on-arrival stage;

  • a commitment to incremental improvements to programs and policy processes by ongoing evaluation and reform;

  • an acceptance of individual case management as a foundation principle of program design; and

  • in principle recognition of the importance of an holistic approach to service delivery.

Referring to mental health policies for people from culturally diverse backgrounds, Minas and his colleagues noted: ‘the major problem […] is not in the policies but in the widespread non-implementation of clearly stated policy objectives, and the lack of explicit strategies and designation of someone to be responsible for implementation of policy’ (Minas et al. 1996, p.79). This observation appears to apply just as well to other areas.

Employment, education, housing and income are the policy areas most central to promoting young refugees’ transition to independence. These areas were seen to require more development in order to support young refugees as a specific-needs group. On-arrival and language training services were highly regarded, though with some points of criticism. Concerns again centered on the Anglo-centric design of many programs and services, a widespread lack of understanding of young refugees, lack of expertise in meeting their needs and inequities in the treatment of asylum seekers and temporary protection visa holders.

The least developed program areas are those that potentially respond to the longer-term needs of refugee young people. This caused some informants to argue that the federal departments responsible for education, income and employment services should assume greater responsibility for addressing the post-settlement support needs of young refugees.


1 See Amnesty International Australia 2001,Factsheet 01, Question and Answer, viewed 30 August 2002,

2 The number of offshore places allocated to Convention refugees (as opposed to places for Special Humanitarian Program applicants), has been fixed over the last few years at 4,000 places.

3 The principles are those of access, equity, communication, responsiveness, effectiveness, efficiency and accountability.

4 Many of the details included in this section come from DIMIA Fact Sheet 93, Sept 2001.

5 A copy of RRAC’s Refugee Youth Strategy Paper can be downloaded from DIMIA’s web site at http://www.immi.

6 Much of the information included in this section can be found in DIMIA Fact Sheet 66 Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (Oct 2001).

7 See DIMIA Fact Sheet 67, Nov. 2001.

8 Consideration of the rights and entitlements of asylum seekers held in Immigration Reception and Processing Centres has been largely beyond the scope of this report. Equity issues relating to the rights of asylum seekers who do not meet UN criteria for protection as refugees, but who might otherwise be seen as deserving support under broader humanitarian criteria, have also been beyond its purview. Both are important issues that require attention.

9 In line with Australia’s international obligations to refugees, TPV holders are able to apply for a subsequent protection visa which may be granted after 30 months if they demonstrate a need for Australia’s ongoing protection.

10 The entitlements of asylum seekers are addressed in greater detail later in this chapter

11 Family payments for those with dependent children are not subject to the two-year waiting period. However, this payment provides help with the cost of raising children and is not intended to be sufficient to live on.

12 The TPV also confers eligibility for Rent Assistance, Family Tax Benefit, Child Care Benefit, Double Orphan Pension, Maternity Allowance and Maternity Immunisation Allowance (see DIMIA Fact Sheet 64, Nov. 2001). These payments are not intended to amount to a livable income and only apply to people in particular circumstances.

13 See DIMIA Fact Sheet 62, Nov. 2001.

14 Shortly after the introduction of the new system, community advocates and agencies raised concerns about its efficacy and the minister subsequently announced a further $55m for Job Network to enable certain non-beneficiaries to gain employment support.

15 The Welfare Rights Unit has documented case studies of some people with refugee experiences who entered Australia as family migrants, who were physically unable to attend a tribunal to put their case for income support because they were literally too weak through lack of food.

16 As noted earlier, the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS) developed by DIMIA recognises that ‘rebuilding the lives of these people [refugees and humanitarian entrants] involves [provision of] extra support to enable them to become acquainted with the Australian environment and the services available so that they can fully participate in the Australian community’ (DIMIA Fact Sheet 66, Oct 2001).

17 It must also be pointed out that some refugee youth distinguish themselves among the highest academic achievers in Australian schools.

18 In November 2001 the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission announced an inquiry into the treatment of children in Immigration Reception and Processing Centres (Age 28 Nov. 2001). Following its five-day visit to the detention centre at Woomera (South Australia), the Commission confirmed ‘that Australia’s detention of the then 236 children in the camp was a breach of the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. It said the children were being inadequately educated, and that health services and general living standards were poor’ (Goddard & Liddell 2002).

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