My research focuses mainly on the longer term health and settlement experiences of people from refugee backgrounds. In collaboration with colleagues from other universities in Australia, we have been interviewing people from refugee backgrounds over time, soon after they arrive in Australia and as they settle in their new country. Settling in a new country after being forcibly displaced from home, community and country of origin is a very complex and dynamic process. I am particularly interested in those aspects that support people from refugee backgrounds in the long term so they are healthy and settle successfully as active members of the Australian community.
One of these studies is the Good Starts Study for recently arrived youth from refugee backgrounds. In 2004 we started following on a regular basis a group of 120 young refugees living in Melbourne, and our last interview occurred in 2012–13, 8 to 9 years after their arrival in Australia.
One of the questions we wanted to answer was, what are the factors that support positive health and wellbeing among this group of young people over their first 8 to 9 years in Australia? We found that a longer period of schooling prior to arriving in Australia, greater self-esteem, a supportive social environment in Australia, and a strong ethnic identity had a positive impact on their health and wellbeing. On the contrary, we also found that having to move house repeatedly over this period of time, and experiencing discrimination impacted negatively on their health and wellbeing. We know from previous research that repeated experiences of discrimination among young people lead to psychological stress and increased unhealthy behaviours which contribute to poor mental and physical health.
These findings have important implications. Our policies, programs and services should foster refugee young people’s self-esteem and positive feelings towards their ethnicity, minimise relocation and support stable connections to place and community, and promote social inclusion through tackling racism and discrimination.
Our research has also shown that refugee young people arrive in Australia with high levels of wellbeing and are eager to do well in their new country. Ultimately, successful resettlement – reflected in a young person’s sense of happiness and wellbeing – will be determined by the extent to which they are able to become a valued citizen within their new country.
The resettlement of people from refugee backgrounds is not only the responsibility of the Australian government. The Australian government resettles refugees on our behalf and it is everyone’s responsibility as Australian citizens to contribute to the health, wellbeing and successful integration of people from refugee backgrounds.