'I have a voice--hear me!' Findings of an Australian study examining the resettlement and integration experience of refugees and migrants from the horn of Africa in Australia.

AuthorPittaway, Eileen


Using the lens of "integration criteria" developed by Ager and Strang, this article presents the findings of a project documenting the resettlement and integration experiences of refugees and migrants from the Horn of Africa (HoA) in Australia. While refugees have enormous potential to integrate successfully, and many do, there are obstacles which persist. These include: trauma; separation of family members; lack of adequate on-arrival information and support; difficulties with language acquisition; lack of access to appropriate and affordable housing; lack of education support; discrimination in the work force; conflict within families; racista; and violence against women.


A travers le prisme des > mis au point par Ager et Strang, cet article presente les resultats d'un projet documentant les experiences de reinstallation et d'integration, en Australie, de refugies et de migrants de la Come de l'Afrique. Bien que les refugies ont un enorme potentiel a s'integrer avec succes, et que nombre d'entre eux y parviennent, des obstacles persistent neanmoins. Parmi ceux-ci figurent les suivants: traumatismes; separation ales membres de la famille; manque d'information et de soutien adequats a l'arrivee; difficultes d'apprentissage du langage; manque d'acces a un logement convenable et abordable; manque de soutien a l'education; discrimination sur le matche du travail; conflits au sein des familles; racisme; violence contre les femmes.


It is estimated that over one million people from the Horn of Africa (HoA) are living in refugee situations in East Africa. (1) Each country in the region, with the exclusion of Djibouti, has produced as well as hosted refugees. The majority of these live in "protracted refugee situations," defined as those "in which refugees find themselves in a longstanding and intractable state of limbo. Their lives may not be at risk, but their basic rights and essential economic, social, and psychological needs remain unfulfilled after years of exile." (2) Refugee camps are often violent; food, education, and medical services are at a minimum. Many children and young people are born in these refugee camps and have known no other life. People suffer from serious challenges to their cultural identity and their ability to maintain family and community life. (3)

Each year Australia resettles approximately six thousand mandated refugees and six thousand special humanitarian entrants from refugee-like situations as part of its program of migration. Of the refugee component, 10.5 per cent of places are held for women at risk, a special visa category for women and their children who have experienced extreme risk and who are vulnerable to future violence. In response to requests from the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to assist refugees from protracted situations, between 2003 and 2005, the Australian government increased the proportion of refugees resettled from African nations from around 33 per cent of its annual intake to over 70 per cent, with the majority coming from the Horn of Africa. (4) Since 2002 more than 20,000 refugees from the HoA have been resettled to Australia. The majority of those came from Southern Sudan.

Resettlement is an opportunity to regain and rebuild shattered lives. Despite experiences of persecution, violence, forced migration, and loss of family and home, many refugees from the HoA are settling successfully and not only working for themselves, but also assisting their communities both in Australia and in Africa. They are succeeding in their new lives, and contributing to the richness of the social, cultural, and economic fabric of Australia. The resilience and adaptability of refugees and refugee communities is evident in the way refugees from the HoA seize the opportunities they are given in resettlement, while carrying with them the horrendous experiences of their past. Members of the mainly anglophone countries of the Horn of Africa living in Australia have come together to form the Horn of Africa Relief and Development Agency (HARDA). It provides a forum where members work together to assist refugees and migrants as they establish new lives.

There are, however, major challenges in the process of settling into a new and different country and culture. Unfortunately, in the case of migrants from the HoA, this has resulted in unprecedented negative media and political attention. In October 2007, this population in Australia was dealt a significant blow when the then Minister for Immigration, Kevin Andrews, issued a media release and conducted several interviews in which he announced that Australia was cutting its humanitarian intake from Africa because these communities, particularly the Sudanese community, were experiencing significant settlement problems and not integrating well into Australian society. (5) Although the Minister made particular reference to Sudanese refugees he spoke broadly about problems for all refugees from Africa, homogenizing vastly different ethnic, cultural, and social groups. The resettlement intake from Africa has subsequently fallen back to just over 33 per cent. The repercussions of this announcement continue to reverberate negatively in African communities, exacerbating existing community stress and tensions within and among diverse African communities and the broader community. There is little evidence to support these contentions, and the problems experienced by new arrivals from the Horn of Africa reflect many of the problems in settlement experienced by previous refugee intakes from many different countries. The reasons for the discrimination against refugees from African nations is beyond the scope of this paper, but is important as it provides the context in which the community is struggling to achieve integration. It has been suggested that the obvious difference in appearance and culture of these new arrivals has made the problems which they are experiencing more visible. Australia does not have a history of migration from African nations, and relationships between Australian indigenous people and the mainstream community are often problematic. The international political climate of fear and the increased focus on border protection are also discussed as contributing factors. This project was initiated by HARDA as a response to these issues and to seek some answers to the questions..

To date, little detailed qualitative research has focused on the resettlement and integration of refugees from the HoA, either in Australia or overseas. There have been significant studies of some particular groups of refugees from the HoA, for example the Somali Bantu in the US (6) and Ethiopian and Somali in Canada. (7) Other studies have focused on specific aspects of resettlement, such as youth (8) and women, (9) and some excellent studies of resettlement experience have been undertaken in Australia. (10) However, little work has been published about the integration experience of a large population who self-identify as members of the HoA community. The findings presented here originate from a project established to fill this significant knowledge gap. A strength of the study is that is demonstrates the linkages between the many aspects of settlement which are often examined independently. This information will foster better understanding of refugees from African communities living in Australia and other countries of resettlement. It highlights the problems experienced by refugees who have lived for extended periods in protracted refugee situations, as they sometimes struggle to adapt to a new life in a world which has changed dramatically since they were forced to flee their home countries.

Settlement Service Provision in Australia

Successful settlement is a key objective of a range of services provided by the government to assist resettled refugees in their first years in Australia under the Humanitarian Program. (11) The most important of these is the Integrated Humanitarian Settlement Strategy (IHSS), which provides initial settlement support and orientation to newly arrived entrants for a period of six months. These services include on-arrival reception and assistance; accommodation services; case coordination, information, and referrals; short-term torture and trauma counselling; and emergency medical needs. (12)

Humanitarian entrants are then referred to general settlement services provided through migrant service agencies and organizations funded under the Australian government's Settlement Grants Program. (13) Other settlement services are provided by community groups, faith-based services, and non-government organizations. People who enter Australia as part of the resettlement program are entitled to these services for up to five years, after which they are expected to access mainstream services. While the quality of many of these services is excellent, they are not consistently offered across the areas in which refugees are settled, and they are often insufficiently resourced to meet their needs.

IHSS services are only available to those people who enter Australia on a refugee visa. Humanitarian entrants are eligible for IHSS services on a "needs basis." (14) This can cause great hardship for newly arrived entrants, who usually come from the same camps and urban refugee sites as those who come as refugees, and for their families who have sponsored them and who bear the responsibility of assisting them in settlement. It is important to note that 70 per cent of refugees from Sudan entered Australia on Special Humanitarian Visas.


This paper is based on a research report that documents the resettlement and integration experiences of refugees and migrants from the HoA in Australia. (15) The project was instigated and funded by the Horn of Africa Relief and Development Agency (HARDA), in partnership with the Centre for Refugee Research, University of New South Wales...

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