Dropped from the moon: the settlement experiences of refugee communities in Tasmania

Refugees Australia Tasmania

This report looks at the experiences of refugee communities in Tasmania against the Department of Immigration’s criteria for successful settlement for new entrants, which has as a broad goal the full economic and social participation of new entrants. Many aspects of life in Tasmania suit refugee communities and promote good settlement outcomes – this includes a mixture of community support, and state and commonwealth funded services.

In 2000 Anglicare examined the settlement experiences of refugee communities in Tasmania. That report found major service gaps after the initial period of settlement and that the steady outflow of new entrants to the mainland was due to employment and community development needs. Seven years later the service system has changed dramatically as a consequence of both redesign and competitive tendering, with those services offered past an initial six months of support now focussed on those refugees deemed to be ‘most in need’. The social environment has also changed. There have been an increased number of refugee arrivals and a shift to source countries in the Middle East and Africa. These refugees are more visibly different than some previous refugee groups. At the same time, at a political level, public discourse about refugees has been dominated by muddy definitional debates about ‘legal’ and ‘illegal’ refugees with an increased public resentment towards those deemed to be ‘illegal’. And these shifts in immigration policy have coincided with a time of great social stress for low income Australians. At a community level it has been a time of rising costs of living, with low income Tasmanians in desperate competition for public housing and affordable private rental properties. While the Tasmanian economy has prospered, long-term unemployment rates have remained high with pathways out of unemployment limited for people with literacy and numeracy issues. Further, Job Network providers in this state appear to still be struggling to meet the needs of humanitarian entrants.

Refugees continue to point to settlement service gaps beyond the period of eligibility for intensive settlement services. These are keenly felt as they struggle with their over-riding concerns about unemployment, their inability to get stable housing and their experiences of racial tension in the Tasmanian community. In particular, refugees are falling through gaps between settlement service and housing service providers, and their housing problems are undermining settlement outcomes for them by failing to provide security of tenure or housing that is accessible to the services they must use. In some cases this has resulted in them ending up in Government-funded crisis housing, financial stress, and struggling with the social isolation caused by frequent moves and the disconnection of community networks. It appears that the current system will only provide the security of public housing to refugees when they are reduced to homelessness rather than as part of Australia’s humanitarian obligation to settlement.

Perhaps consciousness of Tasmania’s history of warmly welcoming refugees has made Tasmanian authorities minimise the disturbing swell of racism in the community, particularly when part of a context of general anti-social behaviour by white youth. However, interviews with members of the refugee community make it clear that this behaviour exacerbates post-traumatic stress for its victims and can and does escalate to acts of violence directed at new entrants.

Anglicare proposes a range of recommendations to address the substantial problems outlined above. Some of these draw on existing initiatives, others on models found to be successful in other jurisdictions. All of them draw on the considerable pool of expertise and stories of success that exist among the refugee communities, settlement services and community service providers.

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