“RESTORING HOPE” – REFUGEE WEEK 2014

You may know that Sunday 15 June to Saturday 21 June 2014 is Refugee Week. Held annually in Australia to coincide with World Refugee Day on the 20th June, Refugee Week is Australia’s peak annual activity to raise awareness about issues affecting refugees and celebrate the positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society.

The Refugee Council of Australia (RCA) has chosen ‘Restoring Hope’ as the theme for this year’s Refugee Week to remind us that ‘while a refugee’s journey begins with danger, it also begins with hope. Refugees flee their homelands not only because they fear persecution, but also because they have hope: they hope to find freedom from persecution, and safety and security for themselves and their families; they hope to be given a chance to start a new life and recover from past trauma’.

The RCA also makes the point that the theme calls attention to the role of countries that offer protection to refugees and provide them with an opportunity to rebuild their lives and restore hope for a future free from fear, persecution, violence and insecurity. Despite fluctuating (and recently, increasingly harsh) policies of deterrence towards asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat, our government also offers permanent settlement to between 13,000 and 14,000 refugees annually through the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) resettlement program. While permanent settlement offers opportunities for a new life, it is also accompanied by significant challenges. Refugees settling in Australia come from diverse backgrounds but face a common need to deal with experiences of loss, family disruption, long periods in refugee camps or seeking asylum and the trauma that forced them to flee their homes. Following resettlement, they must negotiate a new language and culture, unfamiliar health, education and welfare systems and are also likely to experience social isolation, poverty and discrimination. Over 40% of people settling in Australia from refugee backgrounds are under the age of 18 and some of these face additional obstacles associated with disrupted – or even non-existent – formal education, prior to arrival.

We know that despite these challenges, most refugee settlers go on to become successful and productive members of Australian society. We also know that providing appropriate support, particularly in the early stages of settlement, can be crucial to enable this to happen. I, along with others in the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program are engaged in a number of projects where we work in partnership with others across the University and with community organisations to investigate and promote conditions that support refugee-background children and families to overcome barriers to social inclusion, participation and wellbeing.

Completed projects include evaluations we have conducted of programs such as Ucan2 – which assists young people transitioning from language schools and centres into mainstream education settings – and the Foundation House School Support Program – which supports schools to provide an inclusive environment for refugee-background children and families. We have also explored barriers for refugee-background parents in accessing Maternal and Child Health Services and investigated ways to support driver education for refugees settling in regional Victoria.

Current projects include an exploration of the experiences of refugee-background parents and young children who attend supported playgroups run by Save the Children Australia, and a new project focused on sports participation as a means to promoting social inclusion and wellbeing for refugee-background children. We are also about to begin a project looking at ways the University of Melbourne can provide enhanced opportunities and support to tertiary students from refugee-backgrounds.

Underpinning all of these projects is the understanding that improving support for those new to Australia can make all the difference when it comes to them being able to create the new life that they hope for. Some of the remarkable stories of Australians from diverse backgrounds who first came here as refugees with hope for a better future have been collected by Melbourne University’s Researchers for Asylum seekers. You can read some of those stories celebrating their lives and contributions here.

Written by Dr Karen Block
Research Fellow, Jack Brockhoff Child Health & Wellbeing Program
The University of Melbourne

keblock@unimelb.edu.au
                 

World Refugee Day http://stories.unhcr.org/?_ga=1.91771994.1973195338.1402975368

Restoring Hope http://www.refugeeweek.org.au/

Resettlement program http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4a16b1676.html

Ucan2 http://www.unhcr.org/pages/4a16b1676.html

School Support Program http://www.tandfonline.com/doi/abs/10.1080/13603116.2014.899636#.U6DBJChhsTB

Maternal and Child Health http://www.biomedcentral.com/1472-6963/12/117

Driver education https://www104.griffith.edu.au/index.php/inclusion/article/view/440

Refugee-background parents and young children http://www.socialequity.unimelb.edu.au/the-lived-experience-of-refugee-background-children-in-australia/

Here http://www.ras.unimelb.edu.au/stories.html

Proud to be Australian?

It’s been nearly five years since I stood in the echoic expanse that is St Kilda Town Hall and collected the small pot of native flora that marked my acceptance as an Australian citizen. A privilege that was afforded to me by way of my partner.

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(Image courtesy of: http://tizona.wordpress.com/2009/02/11/australian-flag-collection/)

In the time that followed I have worked for the Australian Government, celebrated the birth of my twin boys, integrated my family into a tightly knit community and travelled extensively, with my family, throughout Australia and the world. This Australia Day will mark the fourth occasion where my neighbours will join me and my family as we spill out from our houses and enjoy a street party while strengthening the community ties that we all enjoy.

And all this as an out and proud gay man.

You may think this is all rather unremarkable, after all same-sex attracted men and women are an increasingly visible part of Australian society. But it has not always been so. It was not until 2008 that the then Labor government, through a rare act of bipartisan support, introduced legislation to bring greater equality for same-sex attracted people and their families. This had a significant impact from cradle to grave, including opening up access to assisted reproductive technologies and allowing for appropriate inheritance rights. Today in Australia I can be secure in the knowledge that if anything were to happen to my partner, my children and I will be both financially secure and legally protected.

As I look around the world I am grateful that I live in Australia. In India homosexuality has recently been re-criminalised. In Russia it is an offense to talk positively about being homosexual, and Vladimir Putin has assured gay and lesbian competitors that they will not be hassled at the upcoming Winter Olympics as long as they don’t talk to children! In Gulf Cooperation Countries officials are exploring the slightly ludicrous possibility of developing medical tests to detect homosexuality in order to prevent same-sex attracted expats from entering these states. Both Uganda and Nigeria have just passed strict anti-homosexuality laws, and five countries (Mauritania, Sudan, Iran, Yemen and Saudi Arabia) have legislation in place that allows the punishment of homosexuality with death. When reflecting on what my life might be like in some of these countries it is hard not to feel proud to be Australian.

But Australia is not perfect. Our first attempts at marriage equality in the ACT were overturned when the Federal Government challenged the legislation in the High Court just before Christmas. While countries such as the United Kingdom (where I am also incidentally a citizen) move towards full marriage equality this year, Australia continues to drag its feet. Despite our research here at the Jack Brockhoff Child Health and Wellbeing Program suggesting that children with same-sex attracted parents are doing really well overall, politicians such as Cory Bernardi continue to promulgate negative views about non-traditional families. This negativity has a significant impact on families like mine.

This Australia Day we should all be proud of our country for the leaps and bounds it has taken in providing equality for same-sex attracted people and their families. But we should not forget that the long journey to equality is not over here at home, and certainly not over for many homosexual people abroad.

Advance Australia, nay the world, fair!

 

By Dr Simon R Crouch

Lead Investigator, The Australian Study of Child Health in Same-Sex Families