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

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7 Agenda for change

This final chapter highlights some of the key findings of the research and presents strategies to enable youth service providers, schools, government and non-government welfare and income support providers to strengthen their capacity to meet the needs of refugee young people and assist their transition to independence.

Towards a national policy

Young refugees are not a homogeneous group. Cultural difference, gender, age at arrival and the nature of preand post-migration experiences will all have a bearing on a young person’s capacity to adjust to a new life and a new culture. At the same time, the experience of fleeing a country, being unable to return and then living with uncertainty about the safety of loved ones left behind engenders a state of stress and fearfulness not experienced by other young Australians.

Previous research has focused on either young people from linguistically and culturally diverse backgrounds with an acknowledgment that some are refugees, or on refugees in general, regardless of age. Lack of explicit focus would be understandable if there were very few young refugees in Australia, but this is not the case. The number of young people with refugee experiences living in Australia (some 16,000 to 20,000 in total) is about the same as the number of homeless young people. This report argues that the number of young refugees, in conjunction with their broad commonality of experience, is sufficient reason for this group to receive policy attention in their own right. An integrated or more holistic youth policy is required, covering all areas of the traditional ‘menu’ of needs.

Considerable progress has been made over the years in the support for refugee resettlement in Australia. However, the underpinning assumption with respect to support for young refugees has been that young people’s needs are met within the family group and by supporting the family. This assumption should not go unchallenged, particularly where settlement is viewed as more than just a short-term period. The same rationale for having youth policy for young people generally can be applied to young refugees. It is a basic tenet of youth policy in Australia that young people have specific needs notwithstanding the level of support they receive from their families. It is further recognised that young people from diverse cultural backgrounds may need additional support and specialist services to ensure that their needs are adequately met.

Anecdotal evidence from people experienced in working with young refugees, and concerns arising from an analysis of young refugees’ complex and multiple needs, suggest there are unaddressed problems in meeting the needs of this group. It is proposed here that a major reason for this is that young refugees are not explicitly targeted in policy. Nevertheless, Australia has some well-developed policies that affect young refugees indirectly. These include a range of youth policies, access and equity strategies, the National Integrated Settlement Strategy and Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy. The lack of identification of young refugees as a specific high-need or disadvantaged group in the aims, objectives and strategies of the relevant policy documents, however, represents a policy blind spot with serious implications for practice. A national policy for the support of young refugees is needed in order achieve a cross-portfolio perspective. A national policy would also provide a framework for ensuring that the needs of young refugees are better addressed by more deliberate use of existing human and financial resources to support this group.

Recommendation 1:

That a national young refugee support policy be developed by the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs, in consultation with other stakeholder state and federal departments.

Rationale for resource allocation

Successful implementation of a national policy is dependent on several factors. Good policies are not likely to be effective unless the ‘right’ people are targeted and there are adequate resources attached to programs.

The significant number of young refugees in Australia is a compelling reason for committing more resources to their support. Besides the obvious humanitarian reasons for doing this, it also makes sound economic sense. While the support needs of young refugees are particularly pressing when they first arrive in Australia, with adequate and timely support, the contribution these young people can make to the country in the longer term is likely to be considerable. Refugees are people who have overcome many hurdles just to be in Australia, they are generally extremely committed to their new country, and they bring with them a unique array of cultural and linguistic skills and understanding. The biliteracy and bicultural skills of many young migrants represent an important, but underutilised national resource (Sherington 1993). It is increasingly being recognised that, where nurtured, these skills can greatly enhance Australia’s economic competitiveness. Rado and D’Cruz (1994, p.xiii) 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’. To the extent that economic strength is a prerequisite to achieving broader social and humanitarian goals, it is reasonable that such considerations should be reflected in Australia’s immigration policy as a whole.

Without adequate support, however, the opportunities young refugees have for longer-term independence and full participation in Australian society may be seriously curtailed. The high risk of homelessness among refugee young people revealed by this project is indicative of a broad failure of policy. Significant numbers of refugee young people are clearly falling through the social safety net; their lack of stable accommodation suggests a concurrent lack of the social connectedness essential for growth and independence. The social and economic costs of this policy failure are rarely considered but again it is useful to draw a parallel between government and community response to homeless young people. (For example, see Pinkney and Ewing 1997 for an analysis of the economic costs and benefits of an early intervention service response to homeless youth.)

Beyond adequate resources and appropriate response, to be effective, policies must be ‘owned’ by those who will implement them, the commitment to implementing them must be continually encouraged and reinforced, and adequate coordination across the relevant stakeholders must be developed. These three additional major challenges for translating policy into action – eliciting and requiring commitments from those responsible for implementation, increasing coordination of stakeholders and consultation with policy stakeholders – are addressed next.

Access and equity

As part of its Access and Equity Strategy, the Federal Government has developed a Charter of Public Service in a Culturally Diverse Society that should (in theory) guarantee adequate services for all, regardless of age and ethnicity. The charter is a statement that expresses Australia’s commitment to multiculturalism and to overcoming possible barriers to getting access to government support that might arise from cultural and linguistic difference. It is clear from the findings of this study that access and equity are central issues for policy focused on the needs of young refugees. From the limited evidence available, it appears that young refugees have low levels of awareness of social services and lower rates of participation in services relative to their need. Key informants continually raised concerns about access and equity for young refugees.

A particular challenge for mainstream organisations is to understand the common experience of young refugees, their settlement processes and the sociopolitical and cultural sensitivities of refugee service users. This does not imply a uniform approach towards refugee young people. A high value must be placed on individualised service delivery, premised on an expectation of diversity and difference within the population of refugee young people.

For ethno-specific services, on the other hand, the common challenge is to avoid assuming a parental perspective on the types of service required which will undermine the cultural appropriateness of the agency for younger clients. This does not imply exclusion of the young person’s family. Instead it recognises and responds to an inevitable tension between acknowledging the primary role of a family as caregivers and providers of support for a young person, and being aware that the young person is growing up and will almost certainly have views independent of his or her family. Cultural norms about independence, responsibility for decision-making and the respective roles of children and parents must be carefully considered.

There are six components of accessibility according to Minas et al. (1996). These are:

  • visible accessibility, which requires potential users to be aware of the existence of the service;

  • physical accessibility, which must take into account the geographical location of the service and the availability of public transport;

  • procedural accessibility, which includes concerns about referral and registration processes;

  • economic accessibility, which is about the affordability of a service;

  • psychological accessibility, which must consider the beliefs and expectations of potential service users; and

  • cultural accessibility, which is service provision that takes account of the preferred language, values and behavioural norms of refugee service users.

To ensure access and equity, all of these issues should be considered. It is not the exclusive responsibility of government to ensure access and equity; responsibility is shared with service providers in the community and private sectors. Insufficient attention has been given to how this commitment can be carried through in practice. Agreed standards for determining the adequacy of access and equity policies need to be developed. As an initial suggestion, an access and equity policy should include:

  • a stated commitment to access and equity;

  • strategies to guarantee or increase access and equity;

  • specifically nominated individuals deemed responsible for the implementation of these strategies;

  • appropriate timelines; and

  • appropriate and measurable performance indicators.

Mechanisms need to be put in place to ensure that social service agencies follow through and are held accountable for the implementation of their access and equity policies. This might occur in a number of ways including adoption of the following measures:

  • Access and equity outcomes could be built into service agreements (‘x’% of service users must be of non-Anglo-Australian background consistent with the demographic profile of the community being served) so that access and equity principles are translated into practice.

  • Funding bodies might from time to time commission access and equity evaluations of funded agencies. Publication and wide circulation of the findings from such evaluations would serve to convey the seriousness with which access and equity objectives are regarded and would bring community pressure to bear on those agencies that have not met their objectives.

  • Consumers and ethnic organisations could be involved in the planning and management of community agencies, as a means of informal accountability to the community, which, it is hoped, would over time increase the capacity of agencies to respond sensitively and appropriately to the needs of their ethnic constituents.

  • A children’s and youth ombudsman or commissioner could be appointed. This position would establish independent mechanisms for airing and resolving grievances, for monitoring adherence to access and equity policies and for providing advice and guidelines to nongovernment and community-based organisations. The ombudsman/commissioner might also report to government on emerging issues and policy implementation.

Further research into the viability and relative merits of these options might usefully be carried out, with the experience of individual states providing a good basis for further development.

Recommendation 2:

That the allocation of government funding to social service agencies be conditional upon appropriate access and equity policies at the agency level, and be linked where appropriate to access and equity outcomes established under government guidelines and incorporated in service agreements.

Integrated settlement services

The National Integrated Settlement Strategy (NISS) and Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS) explicitly encourage the different tiers of government and the community sector to work together in the interests of people with refugee experiences. These are positive strategies with a great deal of potential but their effectiveness is constrained by limited resources. Young refugees are not adequately targeted within either the NISS or IHSS. Poor coordination and inadequate targeting are significant factors making it difficult to translate potentially progressive policy ideas into effective practice.

At the agency level, good service provision for refugee young people demands interagency relationships and protocols with a wider range of organisations than might be expected in mainstream community services. For example, a housing service networked with other housing services and some generalist support services may be adequate to the needs of most clients. However, when working with a young refugee, this same service may need to forge and utilise connections with recreation services, dental health services, torture and trauma services, ethno-specific organisations, religious groups and other agencies not normally encountered in the daily work of mainstream housing service providers.

Recommendation 3:

That the Federal Government develop a comprehensive youth strategy for young refugees as an integral part of the National Integrated Settlement Strategy (NISS) and the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS).

Consultation with young refugees

Direct consultation with young refugees is inadequate, and policy formulation and program development appear to be the poorer for it. There is a need for mechanisms to enable ongoing consultation with these young people. This might be facilitated by a nongovernment peak organisation. In 1994, the Australian Youth Foundation and the Australian Multicultural Foundation looked into the feasibility of a national youth peak structure for young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Their study recommended that the functions of such a body could be integrated into the work of existing youth peak organisations. Consultation should be a foundation principle of a national policy for young refugees.

Recommendation 4:

That the Federal Government ensure ongoing consultation with young refugees and the service providers working with them about the issues and support services that affect young refugees. Consideration should be given to resources needed to support the mechanisms for this consultation to take place.

Monitoring performance

Data collection on young refugees’ usage of services is underdeveloped. Researchers are often forced to guess whether or not young people are likely to have had refugee experiences on the basis of their country of birth. The potential for error is considerable. Improvements to data collection procedures would enable more rigorous assessments of whether access and equity considerations had been met. It is not always feasible or appropriate for information on a migrant’s entry or protection visa classification to be recorded. However, there are some possible exceptions to this. Given the relationship between visa category and access to income support, it is desirable that Centrelink and agencies dispensing emergency financial assistance record this information.

The problem of developing indicators of refugee experience falls within the larger project of developing a standardised approach to collecting data on the ethnic, cultural and linguistic background of clients in order to monitor the potential disadvantage (or in some instances, advantage) arising from these factors. In 1999 the Australian Bureau of Statistics responded to the widely recognised need for a nationally consistent framework for the collection and dissemination of data on ethnicity by developing Standards for Statistics on Cultural and Language Diversity. These standards were endorsed by the Council of Ministers of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs in April 1999. The aim was to develop a standard set of variables to measure cultural and language diversity that could be used in all administrative and service provision settings. Details of these standards are provided in Chapter 3. The initial project was directed primarily towards developing cultural and language indicators to replace the term ‘non-English speaking background’ (NESB). NESB was seen to be an inadequate indicator of possible socioeconomic disadvantage arising from cultural and ethnic diversity and, at the same time, a term that had evolved negative connotations, being unable to express the positive aspects of cultural diversity.

Ensuring the implementation of data collection strategies at the agency level is likely to be a recurring problem. Anecdotal evidence suggests there are ongoing problems in the adoption and implementation of the new ABS standards, particularly, but not exclusively, in the smaller agencies. In June 2001 the Commonwealth Interdepartmental Committee on Multicultural Affairs published a guide to assist government departments and agencies to implement the standards. The guide includes a checklist for implementation and urges departments and agencies to develop a system for monitoring the implementation process.1

The systematic implementation of the ABS Standards is a pressing issue on which other policy research and development depends.

Recommendation 5:

That the Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs in collaboration with the Australian Bureau of Statistics develop a process to monitor the national implementation of the ABS Standards for Statistics on Cultural and Language Diversity in both the government and non-government sectors.

Describing and meeting needs

Within the constraints of tracking and collecting information about young refugees, this study has documented the range and depth of needs of this group of young people. The concept of need itself is somewhat problematic and is not easily applied to refugees without a full consideration of the underpinning cultural assumptions (see Chapter 4). The approach advocated in this report is for the adoption of a comparative definition of need, which acknowledges the relative disadvantage of young refugees, but which is tempered by appreciation of the capacities and resilience that young refugees generally bring to their situation.

It is clear that young refugees have complex and multifaceted needs upon arrival in Australia that can be compounded by their lack of familiarity with the Australian welfare system and by poor English language skills. Young refugees commonly experience a fractured adolescence and childhood (associated with the refugee experience), and their development may be ‘frozen’ as they work through complex issues of personal and ethnic identity. These young people may have difficulty in evolving a stable adult identity (Hartley & Anderson 1998).

The enormity of the challenge facing young refugees translates into a complexity of support needs that may seem almost impossible to meet. The findings of this study show that young refugees are more likely to experience significant periods of residential mobility, their risk of homelessness is six to 10 times greater than that of other young people in Australia, and at least some groups of refugee young people are also more likely to be in custody than other groups of young people. However, where a longer-term perspective is adopted, this negative outlook is not warranted. Young refugees, like young people generally, tend to be resilient and adaptive. They are proven survivors and in most cases demonstrate an overwhelming and unambiguous commitment to Australia and to making the best of their lives in a new home.

An exclusive focus on the needs of refugees, without taking into account their capacities and determination, tends to generate an overly pessimistic discourse which underestimates the potential for a well-planned service response to assist young refugees make a successful transition to independence in Australia.

The issues are similar to those expressed in the policy debate over responding to ‘marginal’ and ‘atrisk’ young people. There is a tension between recognising and responding to risk with the consequent need to target limited resources to those most in need and, at the same time, avoiding the possible negative impacts of labeling, including the perpetuation of entrenched dependencies on government services. This discord is substantially resolved once it is realised that the notion of risk is an analytic category useful for making sense of the dimensions of a problem, while resilience emphasises the positive resources that individuals draw on to take charge when changing their lives. Recognition of resilience should fundamentally inform practice. Agencies supporting young refugees need to find ways to enable refugee young people to actively contribute to society, feel good about doing this and reach their individual potential. However, the resources needed for success should be measured in terms of the multiplicity and complexity of the needs of this group of young people, otherwise the ultimate effectiveness of support will be undermined. Young people with refugee experiences should therefore be seen as a ‘high risk’ group, meriting priority attention and specific allocation of resources in many areas of social policy, much in the same way as homeless young people have received such attention in recent years.

The complexity of needs signals the importance of a longer-term perspective on ‘settlement’ services and support than is currently the case. The review of government support undertaken for this study suggests that the least developed program areas are those that potentially respond to the longer-term needs of refugees. This is not a problem any department of immigration can solve by itself. The federal departments responsible for education, income and employment services will have to assume greater responsibility for explicitly addressing the needs of young refugees within their programs.

The explicit identification of young people with refugee experiences as a special needs group within the program areas of relevant departments is one way of enabling a longer-term perspective on strategies for assisting successful settlement.

An effective national policy for young refugees should focus not only on an initial period of settlement but beyond to their future lives as new residents and citizens of Australia. The importance of adopting a longer-term perspective on ‘settlement’ raises the issue of how to define the target population of young refugee settlers. Currently many young people with refugee experiences living in Australia are not considered by government to be prospective ‘settlers’. This is true in the case of temporary protection visa holders who, by definition, are allowed to remain in Australia for a limited time; it is not intended that people under the terms and conditions of these visas settle and make Australia their home. Most mainstream government services, including income support, are only available to migrants with permanent residency status.

We argue that young people with refugee experiences who are resident in Australia on a temporary basis and/or whose claims for refugee status and protection are still being processed (asylum seekers), should be included in a national young refugee support policy even though their ‘final’ destination may be a country other than Australia (see chapters 2 and 5). Both temporary protection visa holders and asylum seekers are resident in Australia for an uncertain period of time. Even young people who remain ineligible for permanent protection visas and hence permanent residency status may remain in Australia for longer than three years since temporary protection visas may be renewed. For people in their teens and early twenties, even relatively short periods without adequate support can seriously undermine long-term life chances and independence (whether in Australia or elsewhere). On humanitarian grounds and on the grounds of enhancing the effectiveness of policy designed to enable early and effective settlement, all young people with refugee experiences living in Australia and seeking Australia’s protection should be treated ‘as if’ they were going to remain in the country indefinitely. This would entail having access to education, income, employment and other mainstream supports from the beginning of their stay.

Recommendation 6:

That broad youth policy in the federal and state jurisdictions explicitly address the special needs of young people with refugee experiences along with other special needs groups where appropriate.

Eligibility criteria

Underpinning the discussion so far, as well as all of the above recommendations, is a key principle: that human needs should be addressed within the community service infrastructure. At present, eligibility for a range of mainstream and migrant-specific supports and services is determined on the basis of visa classification and residency status. The ‘hierarchy of benefits’ set in place by current distinctions in the visa classification system results in serious inequities in the treatment of young refugees. First, people with similar claims for refugee status, or more broadly, for humanitarian protection, are treated differently according to the means by which they entered the country. Second, young people with similar refugee experiences and similar settlement support needs entered, or were allowed to stay in, Australia on visas that confer very different entitlements to government assistance.

Young refugees living in Australia under temporary protection visas (TPV) were identified as a particularly disadvantaged group. These young people came to Australia without valid documentation and were subject to mandatory detention while their claims for protection were being assessed. Despite being recognised as refugees under the criteria of the United Nations Refugee Convention, TPV holders have very restricted entitlements compared to other refugees. The entitlements conferred by the TPV are intentionally restricted in order to serve as a deterrent to possible future unauthorised arrivals and the syndicates of people smugglers who arrange their passage to Australia. Under the conditions of their visas, these young refugees are allowed to live and work in Australia for an initial period of three years yet they are not entitled to most Centrelink services and income support payments, nor to English language tuition. As temporary residents, they are not eligible to sponsor their close family members to Australia and are prevented from entering and exiting the country freely.

A second group of young people with refugee experiences seen to be treated inequitably under current arrangements are those who were sponsored to Australia by refugee settlers under the Family Stream of the Migration Program. A survey conducted as part of this project indicates that these young people are likely to have refugee experiences. The large majority (71%) of Family Stream migrants interviewed originated from countries undergoing considerable violence at the time of their departure, just under one-third reported that their family was subject to persecution, and 22% stated that they had been afraid for their lives. However, regardless of the strength of their own claims to special assistance on humanitarian grounds, family reunion entrants have limited access to the resettlement services available to entrants under the Humanitarian Program and are not exempted from the Newly Arrived Resident’s Waiting Period for income support. The logic of this distinction is based on an expectation of financial and accommodation support from the Australian sponsors of Family Stream entrants. This expectation is neither realistic nor fair when applied to sponsors who themselves have come from refugee backgrounds. Consultation with service providers and young refugees highlighted the hardship caused to young people entering as ‘family reunion’ migrants when sponsorship arrangements break down.

The likely impact of these restrictions to eligibility is to undermine the chances of some particularly highrisk groups of migrants for successful settlement. Current arrangements are not only inequitable, but from the point of view of strategic settlement policy, they are also likely to be ineffective. The approach to determining eligibility stands in marked contrast to federal youth policy generally, where emphasis is increasingly placed on ensuring young people at risk of not making a successful transition to independence are specifically targeted for preventative assistance. The overlap in the populations of young refugees and homeless young people heightens this contradiction.

In light of these considerations, a review of eligibility criteria for government assistance is urgently required together with an investigation into the design and implementation of a needs-based approach to determining eligibility. Chapter 5 articulates the case for ensuring that young people with refugee experiences are eligible for government assistance on the basis of need, rather than visa category. Development of a needs-based approach will require difficult negotiation between sometimes conflicting government goals – those relating to population policy, border protection policy, humanitarian settlement policy and youth policy.

Adoption of a needs-based approach is likely to mean increased expenditure in the short-term, even if the level of humanitarian entry remains constant. This cost must be weighed against the long-term humanitarian, cultural and economic gains from adequate support of a group of young people who may live their whole life in Australia.

and dedicated financial support of the Federal Government.

Recommendation 7:

That the eligibility criteria for government assistance to young people with refugee experiences be reviewed with the objective of investigating how a needs-based approach might best be implemented.

Racism and intolerance

Meeting the needs of young refugees will always be difficult when they encounter racial intolerance on a daily basis. Despite an official policy of multiculturalism, there remain forms of institutional discrimination that can be difficult to change. The personal practices of individuals in contact with young refugees often involve cultural insensitivity and sometimes overt hostility or racism. Apart from the broader policies on multiculturalism in Australia, there needs to be continuing community education to encourage the community to respond positively and generously to disadvantaged groups including refugees and asylum seekers.

Recommendation 8:

That the Federal Government undertake continuing community education to encourage people in the broader community to respond positively and generously to refugees and asylum seekers, particularly by highlighting young refugees as future young Australians.

Good practice strategies

‘Good practice’ responses to the needs of young refugees require at a minimum an understanding of common refugee experiences and of young people’s issues in general. Beyond this, good practice also requires a ‘whole of organisation’ commitment: integration across management, in all organisational processes, in personal practice and in external relationships.

The key elements of good practice in service delivery for young refugees clients are:

  • cultural and linguistic appropriateness;

  • integration of services including both broader interagency networks and stronger networks, for example for facilitating referrals;

  • recognition of diversity and individualised and flexible service delivery;

  • a holistic approach to addressing the needs of each young person; and

  • attention to family context and, wherever possible, family involvement.

An unintentional lack of cultural sensitivity is evident in service institutions and among service providers. It is important that mainstream professionals have ample opportunity to become sensitised to cross-cultural methods of working. In-service training and training of mainstream service providers by ethnospecific service providers can assist in the sensitisation of mainstream professionals. Opportunities to learn through experience also need to be provided.

Cross-cultural awareness training is often a lowpriority, low-status activity in Australia. It is rarely mandatory, often poorly publicised, and the results of programs (for replication purposes) are poorly disseminated. As a result, cross-cultural awareness programs tend to preach to the converted. The following strategies could be adopted:

  • In the interests of sensitising professionals to linguistic diversity, all community service students, as part of their study, could compulsorily practise working with interpreters or undertake placements in which they can learn and expand on cross-cultural skills gained in classroom situations.

  • Formal reciprocal training programs involving ethno-specific services/agencies and mainstream agencies could be encouraged. This could involve ethno-specific and mainstream/specialist service providers exchanging their training services. Government could subsidise agencies involved for one hour of salary for every hour of training exchanged. An innovation like this would have the secondary benefits of generating increased employment opportunities for migrants and of fostering improved networks and integrated services.

  • Another option might be to support trained ‘culture brokers’. The role of a culture broker would be to bridge the gap between the culture of the service user and the culture of the professional caregivers or the agency culture. Many people employed in the social service sector already undertake culture brokerage type work, especially those employed by Migrant Resource Centres; however, it is usually unacknowledged or undervalued. In refining this idea, a key issue would be how best to ensure the culture brokerage services can be flexible enough to benefit new refugee groups emerging in each region or community.

Recommendation 9:

That a proportion of government funds for organisations working largely with clients from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds be tied to crosscultural awareness staff training and organisational development.

Further research

Some important issues have been beyond the scope of this project. One area about which little is known relates to the needs of those born in Australia to parents from refugee backgrounds. Members of this group are paradoxically referred to as ‘second generation refugees’. It is possible that this group of young people share many of the needs of young refugees, in the same way as children born to survivors of the holocaust have been found to have significant needs not dissimilar to their parents. On the other hand, Australian-born young people from refugee families grow up in the new community and are likely to adapt more easily and associate more closely with their peers in school.

Recommendation 10:

That further research be conducted to ascertain similarities and differences between the needs of refugees and their children.

Over the last few years, several hundred young asylum seekers fleeing persecution in their own countries and eventually arriving in Australia without documentation have been forced to experience often lengthy periods in Australian Immigration Reception and Processing Centres while their claims (or their parents’ claims) for refugee status are being considered. Since October 1999, asylum seekers found to be refugees and allowed to stay in Australia but who arrived without authorisation have only had access to temporary protection visas (TPVs). This class of visa gives reduced access to mainstream settlement and income support services, does not allow holders to sponsor close members of their families to join them in Australia, and prohibits free exit and re-entry. The combination of traumatic migration experiences, mandatory detention and subsequent reduced access to basic services suggests young asylum seekers who came to Australia without authorisation are likely to be a particularly disadvantaged group. There is little documented evidence regarding the impact of this new policy and legislative context on young people's capacity to achieve long-term independence within Australia. Regardless of the debate on the success or otherwise of the TPV as a disincentive for people smuggling and unauthorised arrival, there is a critical need for research into the settlement and postsettlement experiences of this group of young refugees.

Recommendation 11:

That further research be undertaken to investigate the needs and access to support services of refugee young people currently living in the Australian community who arrived without authorisation and/or who hold bridging or temporary protection visas.


This report has described the needs of young refugees and has reviewed policies, services and programs whose coverage, at least in theory, extends to this group of young people. Areas for potential improvement have been highlighted and some examples of good practice have been suggested. Australia’s approach to resettlement has grown in sophistication over the past decade and it stands as a positive achievement in policy and program terms. Nevertheless, the findings of this project strongly indicate that the current policy and program framework is not able to adequately address the needs of young people with refugee experiences. The main limitations of Australia’s response to young refugees are:

  • the short-range conception of the settlement process;

  • an increasingly inequitable approach to determining eligibility for government services; and

  • a failure in policy and program design to sufficiently identify the particular barriers and needs that arise from refugee experiences.

The case made in this report is that refugee young people require an explicit focus within youth policy and settlement policy.

1 The Guide: Implementing the Standards for Statistics on Cultural and Language Diversity can be downloaded from the DIMIA website at: ]

Appendix 1:

Project reference group members

Paris Aristotle Victorian Foundation for the Survivors of Torture

Carol Croce Australian Youth Policy and Action Coalition

Jo Elvins (retired) Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

Susan Ferguson Youth Affairs Network of Queensland

Tony Fortey Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

Nigel Hearn Commonwealth Youth Bureau

Paul Hoban Brunswick English Language Centre

Gail Hood Milpera Intensive English Centre

Barbara Leggott Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs

Margaret Piper Refugee Council of Australia

David MacKenzie Centre for Youth Affairs Research and Development, RMIT

Susan Ward Ethnic Youth Issues Network

Debbie Wong Youth Action Policy Association

Appendix 2:

Secondary sources of data

Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia (LSIA)

The LSIA is the most comprehensive survey of immigrants ever to be undertaken in Australia. It seeks to provide government and other agencies with reliable data to monitor and improve immigration and settlement policies, programs and services. There have been two LSIA surveys:

  • LSIA 1 surveyed migrants who arrived in Australia between September 1993 and August 1995; and

  • LSIA 2 surveyed migrants who arrived in Australia between September 1999 and August 2000.

The sampling unit for the LSIA is the Primary Applicant. The Primary Applicant is the person upon whom the approval to immigrate was based. The main concern of the LSIA is to collect detailed information about the Primary Applicant. However, information is also collected for everyone in the household and for the migrating unit as a whole. A household comprises all persons living at the same address as the Primary Applicant. A migrating unit comprises all persons in the household who migrated to Australia as part of the same migration application as the Primary Applicant.

Although information is collected for everyone in the household, the amount of detailed information collected for an individual will vary. For example, if the spouse is a migrating unit spouse, that is, part of the same migrating unit as the Primary Applicant, detailed information on the spouse will be collected from the spouse. Otherwise, basic information on the spouse will be collected from the Primary Applicant. In most cases, only basic demographic information is collected for other people in the household.

Only a small percentage of Primary Applicants are aged between 12 and 25 years. The large majority of young people from refugee backgrounds who entered or were allowed to stay in Australia did so as part of the application of another family member and consequently information on this group of refugees is limited in comparison. Nevertheless the LSIA remains an important data source. (See DIMIA web site for a description of the LSIA.)

Translating and Interpreting Service Information System (TISIS)

The Department of Immigration and Multicultural and Indigenous Affairs provides a Translating and Interpreting Service (TIS) to assist the settlement of migrants. Information about the use of this service is collected by an information system known as TISIS. The system was designed to improve management and financial processing and reporting. Thus, the focus of TISIS is on the nature of the agency that has booked the service, whether the service is being used on a feepaying or on a fee-free basis, the type of service provided, and the user charge relating to the service. No information is available about the recipient of services, beyond language and gender. Consequently, it is impossible to determine whether young people from refugee backgrounds are accessing TIS at an equitable rate, and/or the type of services that young people are accessing. At the time the secondary analysis of data was undertaken for this study, the limitations of TISIS were being recognised, and a more developed version of the TISIS was being developed to overcome some of these limitations.
Literacy survey of Victorian English Language Centres

A survey of 10 secondary and six primary English Language Centres (ELCs) was undertaken in June 1995 by the Brunswick English Language Centre. The purpose of the survey was to document the literacy needs of students from non-English speaking backgrounds, as this information was not being collected through other processes or by other agencies. The schools themselves initiated the project and proposed that the cohort of young people with low literacy levels be re-surveyed at various intervals, thus developing longitudinal information about the educational and employment outcomes for young people with low literacy levels. Follow-up of the cohort did not occur as planned, and although the current project was willing to undertake some follow-up work, the cohort could not be located. Neither, then, have the preliminary results of the original survey been published or otherwise released.

In total, 1,288 primary and secondary students participated in the original survey, ranging in age from 8 to 20 years. A total of 404 (31%) students were identified as experiencing literacy problems: 117 (9%) were not literate in any language and 283 (22%) were semi-literate. No significant gender differences in literacy levels were noted. No significant differences between the literacy rates of primary and secondary students were observed.

Some 63% (810) of the sample were secondary school students aged mostly from 12 to 20 years. Notably, 22 (3%) secondary school students participating in the survey had no previous schooling, and a further 200 (25%) experienced a disruption of three or more years to their schooling. Young people from refugee backgrounds were commonly identified among those with the most severe disruptions to their schooling.

The term ‘not literate’ was defined as being unable to read or write in any language. The term ‘semiliterate’ was applied to students whose rate of literacy development was two years or more below their age level usually due to one or more of the following factors:

  • no previous schooling;

  • disruption to schooling of two or more years (primary) or three or more years (secondary);

  • previous schooling in language other than first language; and/or

  • suspected learning disability.

Data were based on information gained from parents and guardians at enrolment or parent–teacher interviews; formal and informal assessment in the first language; and observations of impaired learning progress made by teachers, ethnic teacher aides and school support staff such as psychologists, social workers or speech therapists.
Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS)

The possible use of data from the National Census of Population and Housing was investigated. However, the most recent data available were from the 1996 Census and new groups of refugees had come to Australia since that time. Also, although the Census data provides a number of questions for identifying ethnicity, refugee status is not indicated. Use of Census data to enumerate the population of people who entered as refugees or under family reunion must be estimated on the basis of an assumption that all Afghanis or Eritreans identified in the ABS data were refugees in the broadest sense at entry. In most cases this may not be an unreasonable assumption but for some groups the assumption does not hold. For other purposes, knowing the size of an ethnic group may be perfectly satisfactory.
National Settlement Database (SDB)

The National Settlement Database is the main source of population figures for refugee communities in Australia. Settlement Database records are created from data collected during the processing of a migration application. Supplementary information is added from Settlement Information Forms, the AMEP Reporting and Management System and other DIMIA data collections (see DIMIA web site for details). The SDB includes data from onshore processed settlers, including those under the Humanitarian Program. However, information on temporary protection visa holders is not included on the SDB because, like other temporary residents, these people are not considered ‘settlers’. The SDB is a key source of information on young refugee and humanitarian settlers (those with permanent residency).

Appendix 3:

Young refugees and the definition of homelessness

The definition of homelessness is contentious as it directly determines who will and will not be included in the homeless population. The landmark report, Our Homeless Children, by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission (1989), which was largely responsible for attracting much public attention to youth homelessness and ensuring considerable resources were diverted to providing support for young homeless people, described homelessness as:

a lifestyle which includes insecurity and transiency of shelter. It is not confined to a total lack of shelter. For many children and young people it signifies a state of detachment from family and vulnerability to dangers, including exploitation and abuse broadly defined, from which the family normally protects a child. However, the Inquiry also found that there is a growing number of children who are ‘homeless’ because the whole family cannot obtain adequate shelter (Burdekin 1989, p.7).

This statement implies a definition of homelessness, but also contains other features of the homeless experience. Thus, it cannot easily be operationalised for research purposes.

The most widely quoted definition of homelessness was proposed by the National Coalition for Housing, soon after the release of Burdekin’s report Our Homeless Children. This definition is:

an absence of secure, adequate and satisfactory shelter as perceived by the young person and for homelessness to exist, at least one of the following conditions, or any combination of conditions should be operative:

  • an absence of shelter

  • the threat of loss of shelter

  • very high mobility between places of abode

  • existing accommodation considered inadequate by the resident for such reasons as overcrowding, the physical state of the residence, lack of security of occupancy, or lack of emotional support and stability in the place of residence

  • unreasonable restrictions in terms of alternative forms of accommodation (MacKenzie 1997, p.1).

The above definition may be useful for program planning purposes as it includes both objective and subjective conditions. As such, the definition acknowledges some of the realities of homelessness as an experiential process, but again, this definition cannot be operationalised for research purposes.

A definition has recently been proposed for research and policy purposes that draws attention to the socially constructed nature of homelessness as a social problem (see MacKenzie & Chamberlain 1992, 1998; House of Representatives Standing Committee on Community Affairs 1995; MacKenzie 1997). MacKenzie and Chamberlain’s model of homelessness specifies different degrees of homelessness. The definitions used by the above named authors can be amalgamated as follows:

First-degree homelessness describes young people with no accommodation at all who may live on the streets or squats, whereas second-degree homelessness refers to those with only temporary accommodation with friends or relatives and those who move around between various forms of shelter. Third-degree homelessness describes those in long-term supported accommodation for homeless people such as youth housing programs. It may also include those constrained to live permanently in single rooms in

private boarding houses. Those experiencing incipient homelessness (and at risk of other forms of homelessness) are those who are housed but are without the conditions of home, for example without security, safety or in unhygienic, overcrowded or otherwise inadequate circumstances.

Even this definition requires amendment for the purposes of this research. There are two reasons why it is difficult to apply this definition to young people with refugee experiences. First, if all young people in temporary accommodation are deemed to be experiencing (second-degree) homelessness, the risk is that young refugees will be falsely over-represented in second-degree homelessness. New arrivals realistically require some time to find a relatively permanent accommodation option and must necessarily have temporary accommodation on arrival.

If, however, a young person (or family) remains in temporary accommodation after a significant period of time has elapsed then perhaps they should be considered homeless. In defining ‘a significant period of time’, it is worth reviewing the time period over which the settlement of refugees is assumed to occur, as this can provide guidance as to an appropriate time period for finding secure accommodation. Settlement accommodation services are provided on arrival and through the Community Refugee Settlement Scheme for six months. However, it can be argued that the government policy implicitly regards settlement as a process that requires about two years (and settlement services are thereafter required on a needs basis) (Cox 1996).

So, at what point can it be argued that permanent accommodation should have been secured? Taking the midway point between the six-month limit on the provision of accommodation services and the expectation that settlement will occur over a two-year period, it can be argued that young refugees should only be regarded as experiencing second-degree homelessness if they remain in temporary accommodation 15 months after their arrival. This proposal, although it may be sound, gives insufficient attention to the compounding effect that homelessness can have on young people’s refugee experiences. If young people become (independently) homeless after such time that their family/caregivers have secured more permanent accommodation, then such persons may be considered to be even more disadvantaged than other homeless young people because they have experienced homelessness ‘twice over’.

The second reason why it is difficult to apply the above definition of homelessness to young refugees pertains to the cultural experience of home. This is particularly important for understanding incipient homelessness. For example, Anglo-Australian traditions value and prioritise private space and, conversely, demonstrate a low tolerance for sharing, relative to some other cultures. Young people with refugee experiences, however, may be caught in a cultural bind. The following scenario illustrates this point: Family A is comfortable (indeed prefers) to accommodate all eight of the family members in a three-bedroom unit, and the young person (who has become more acculturated to the Western tradition of wanting personal space) rejects this. The question then arises: is the fact that the young person perceives this ‘overcrowding’ to constitute homelessness when the family does not, grounds for regarding that young person as homeless? Even if the answer is yes (as I believe it to be), how can this be operationalised for research purposes? In short, it cannot. However, raising these issues and documenting the cultural bias of mainstream definitions of such social constructs as homelessness may usefully spur more researchers into thought and action to ensure that the cultural bias inherent in such definitions is acknowledged and removed.

In conclusion, the following definition of homelessness for the purposes of this research into the needs of young people with refugee experiences is proposed:

  • Young people with no accommodation at all who may live on the streets or in squats are homeless in the first degree.

  • Young people who have temporary accommodation with friends or relatives and those who move around between various forms of shelter while their families have permanent accommodation are homeless in the second degree (a). New arrivals who have been in temporary accommodation of any form continuously for more than 15 months (with or without their families) are homeless in the second degree (b).

  • Young people who are in long-term supported accommodation for homeless people such as youth housing programs or who are constrained to live permanently in single rooms in private boarding houses are homeless in the third degree.

Young people who are housed but are without the conditions of home, for example without security, safety or in unhygienic, overcrowded or otherwise inadequate circumstances are at risk of homelessness.

Appendix 4:

Young refugees interview schedule


Hello. My name is Louise Coventry and I am a researcher from RMIT University. The project I am working on is about the needs of young people who have refugee-like experiences. This project is important because it will mean that the needs of young refugees can be better understood, and better programs and policies can be set up to meet these needs. I am very interested in your experiences in Australia, and I would like to ask you some questions about this. The questions will take about one hour. I would also like to record what you say, so I can remember it for later on. No one else will know what you have said. And when I type up your words, no one will know that they came from you.

Is this OK? Do you have any questions?


Circle: Gender ….….. M/F

First of all, how old are you?

Where do you come from? Where did your parents come from?

What is your religion?

About the refugee experience

Could you tell me how you came to leave your home?

How long was it after you left your home before you arrived in Australia?

On-arrival services

What was the first thing that happened after you arrived in Australia? Then what?

How did that make you feel?


Where did you live when you first arrived here?

What about now?

Who do you live with?

Are they employed? Full time or part time?


Do you get money here?

Do you know where it comes from?

Language and information

What is it like being at the language school?

Do you have all the information you need to live in Australia?

Who helps you when you need to know something about Australia?

What do you know most about Australia?


Where do you feel you belong? Why?

Probe if several identities … Which is most important? Why?
Juvenile justice

Have you met any police officers in Australia?

What happened?

Transition to independence

What do you plan to do when you finish at the language school? Then what?

How long do you want to stay at school?

What sort of job would you like to get?

Will you move out of home? When?

What will your role be in your family?

How long do you want to stay in Australia?


Overall, what is it like living here?

What is the best thing about living in Australia?

What is the worst thing about living in Australia?

What advice would you give to someone else from your country who was going to come to Australia?

Is there anything else you would like to say about living in Australia?


Is there anything you would like to say about your experience of participating in this interview?
Concluding comments

What you have told me today has been very useful and I thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. Your ideas will be used to contribute to a report about the needs of young refugees, and I will do my best to ensure that what you have told me today can be used to help make life better for all young people with refugee experiences in Australia. Thanks again.

Appendix 5:

Family interview schedule

I will start with some introductory questions about your background.
Section 1: Demographic information

1. In which country were you born? Answer for each person.

2. When did you arrive in Australia? Answer for each person.

3. In your home country, how many people did you live with? or Who was part of your family?

4. What are their ages? Are they male or female? Answer for each person.

5. Which one of these are you?

6. Are all of the people in your family (who you lived with in your home country) in Australia now? YES/NO

7. Which ones are not?

8. Who do you live with in Australia?

I would like to ask some questions now about how young people grow up in your country.
Section 2: Cultural understanding of independence

9. In your country, when do you expect a young person to leave home and set up a separate household?

10. In your country, what does a young person have to do to be ready to leave home and set up a separate household?

11. Is independence different from leaving home? YES / NO

12. What does independence mean in your country? For male children? For female children?

If there is no concept of independence in the home country, please note this and explain.

13. At what age would a young person generally be seen as independent?

Now I would like to ask some questions about how your children might grow up in Australia.
Section 3: Independence in Australia

14. What hopes do you have for your children now that you are in Australia?

Prompts to use if needed:

What sort of job do you hope they might get?

How far do you hope they would go at school?

What sort of relationship would they have?

What would their role in family be?

Are there differences in your hopes and expectations for male children as compared to female children?

15. Now that you are in Australia, at what age do you think your children will leave home?

16. Now that you are in Australia, how old do you think they will be when they become independent?

Section 4: Capacity to provide support

17. What is your role in caring for your children?

18. How long will your role last? What will happen then?

19. What do you think you might be able to do to help your children fulfil the hopes that you talked about before?

20. What support might come from other sources (e.g. your community, the government, schools, etc.) to help your children reach these goals?

21. Is there something else you would like to say about these things we have been talking about?

Section 5: Evaluation

22. Is there anything you would like to say about your experience of participating in this interview?

What you have told me today has been very useful and I thank you very much for taking the time to talk to me. Your ideas will be used to contribute to a report about the needs of young refugees, and the researchers will do their absolute best to ensure that what you have told me today can be used to help make life better for all young people with refugee experiences in Australia. Thanks again.

Appendix 6:

Key informants

Paris Aristotle

Terri Bednall

Aileen Burgess

John Byrne

David Cox

Carol Croce

Jo Elvins

Susan Ferguson

Bill Frost

Carmel Guerra

Paul Hoban

Peter Hosking

Merle Mitchell

Scott Phillips

Margaret Piper

Susan Ward

Debbie Wong

Round 1/Workshop 1: Employment, education and training

Question: Imagine that Service A provides the best conceivable employment, education and training service to young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The features of Service A include all the generic indicators of good practice described in the Introduction.

Next door to Service A is Service B. Service B provides the same high quality, best practice service as Service A, but its target group is young refugees. What is the difference between Service A and Service B?

Round 1/Workshop 2: Housing

Question: Imagine that Service A provides the best conceivable housing service to young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The features of Service A include all the generic indicators of good practice described in the Introduction.

Next door to Service A is Service B. Service B provides the same high quality, best practice service as Service A, but its target group is young refugees. What is the difference between Service A and Service B?

Round 1/Workshop 3: Racism, identity and culture

Question: Imagine that Service A provides the best conceivable racism, identity and culture service to young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The features of Service A include all the generic indicators of good practice described in the Introduction.

Next door to Service A is Service B. Service B provides the same high quality, best practice service as Service A, but its target group is young refugees.

What is the difference between Service A and Service B?

Round 1/Workshop 4: Health

Question: Imagine that Service A provides the best conceivable health service to young people from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. The features of Service A include all the generic indicators of good practice described in the Introduction.

Next door to Service A is Service B. Service B provides the same high quality, best practice service as Service A, but its target group is young refugees. What is the difference between Service A and Service B?

Round 2/Workshop 1: Reception services

Question: What distinguishes holistic, best practice services delivered to young refugees upon arrival in Australia from holistic, best practice settlement and post-settlement services delivered to refugee young people?
Round 2/Workshop 2: Settlement services

Question: What distinguishes holistic, best practice settlement services delivered to young refugees from holistic, best practice on-arrival and post-settlement services delivered to refugee young people?
Round 2/Workshop 3: Post-settlement services

Question:What distinguishes holistic, best practice post-settlement services delivered to young refugees from holistic, best practice reception and settlement services delivered to refugee young people?

Appendix 7:

Good practice forums

1. Under which immigration category did you enter Australia? (Tick one only)

Refugee ...................................... 1

Special Humanitarian Program .......... 2

Special Assistance Category ............. 3

Family Reunion ............................ 4

Not sure ...................................... 5

2. Gender:

Female ................................... 1

Male ...................................... 2

3. Age: •• years

4. Country of Birth: (Please write your country of birth)


5. Who do you live with in Australia?

(Tick as many as appropriate)

Mother........................................ 1

Father......................................... 2

Step-parent.................................. 3

Other Relative(s).......................... 4

Non-Relative(s)............................ 5

Parent’s De-facto partner.................. 6

Foster parents............................... 7

Sister(s) and/or Brother(s)................ 8

Any Other.................................... 9


6. Who did you live with in your country of birth? (Tick as many as appropriate)

Mother........................................ 1

Father......................................... 2

Step-parent.................................. 3

Other relative(s)............................ 4

Non relative(s).............................. 5

Parent’s De-facto partner................. 6

Foster parents............................... 7

Sister(s) and/or Brother(s)................ 8

Any Other.................................... 9


7. Where do you live now? (Tick one only)

If with family members:

In own house/flat paying rent ........... 1

In on-arrival accommodation [OAA] or Community Refugee Settlement place .. 2

With sponsor ................................ 3

If by yourself:
Young Refugee Survey

This survey asks some questions which will help us understand better what young refugees need. This information may help improve the support to young people such as you. Do not write your name on this form. No one will know what your answers are. Some answers may seem personal, but please answer honestly. RMIT University appreciates your co-operation with this survey.


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