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Emergency resilience in culturally and linguistically diverse communities: challenges and opportunities

Disaster resilience Migrants Disaster relief CALD Community development Disasters Australia

Emergencies and disasters are an integral part of life in Australia. Bushfires, cyclones, floods, droughts, pandemics, industrial accidents or terrorist attacks can happen at any time and affect anyone. They can damage property and infrastructure, disrupt routines, cause injury or death, and bring long-lasting physical, psychological and financial consequences for those affected. With climate change predicted to increase the frequency and intensity of disasters, understanding what makes individuals and communities resilient or vulnerable to disruptive events has never been so important.

Among the various population groups, culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities – migrants, refugees and asylum seekers – are widely considered more vulnerable to disasters’ impacts due to such factors as unfamiliarity with Australia’s physical and social environment, low English proficiency, poor awareness of local hazards, undeveloped support networks or previous traumatic experience. This research attempts to shed light on various aspects of CALD communities’ experience with emergencies to deepen our understanding of the complex factors shaping resilience and vulnerability. Examined topics include the impact of the migration journey and settlement challenges; perceptions, knowledge and attitudes towards hazards; the influence of past experience on coping capacities; the role of social capital and community networks; and the challenges of culturally appropriate emergency communication.

Findings are derived from a comprehensive review of international and Australian research, insights from multicultural respondents, consultation with stakeholders in the emergency management and migration support sectors, and lessons learned during Red Cross community engagement. While the specific circumstances of CALD communities can create heightened vulnerability to disasters’ impact, this research found that many migrants and refugees display high levels of resilience, knowledge and coping capacities – often as a result of having overcome the significant challenges of migration and settlement in a new country. This suggests that emergency management and community engagement strategies that focus on existing strengths can be more effective at generating resilience than approaches centred on vulnerability.

Despite these overlooked sources of resilience within CALD communities, many migrants and refugees remain highly vulnerable to the impacts of disasters. While emergency management actors are increasingly recognising the importance of multiculturalism for their work and embedding cultural considerations in preparedness, response and recovery activities, more needs to be done to address the disproportionate impact of emergencies on culturally diverse Australians. This report therefore concludes with concrete and achievable actions that various stakeholders can adopt to contribute to this effort.

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