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12 Apr 2023

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Australia’s newest refugee resettlement hub offers blueprint for regional communities

The successful establishment of Australia’s newest refugee resettlement regional hub could offer lessons for optimising refugee resettlement in other regional locations, with new research showing increasingly positive community sentiment towards the new residents.

In early 2018, Armidale, NSW, became Australia’s newest regional settlement location and, since then, around 650 Ezidi refugees have settled in the regional city. Last week, non-profit organisation Settlement Services International (SSI) and local organisations are gathering to mark five years since the first Ezidis settled in Armidale.

From the outset, the University of New England (UNE), in partnership with SSI, has conducted research to measure community attitudes towards refugees in Armidale.

The final research findings, show residents’ concerns about refugees decreased over time, while positive attitudes towards and contact with their newest neighbours have generally increased.

SSI General Manager Newcomers, Settlement and Integration, Yamamah Agha said what made these findings particularly noteworthy was the fact that comparison with Australia-wide surveys showed Armidale to be quite typical of other inner regional towns. It did not appear to be a ‘special case’ of a highly welcoming community.

“SSI was able to draw on the research to have a better understanding of community attitudes and concerns and then work to address them through dedicated community engagement initiatives. This shows that when refugee resettlement is done right, it has the power to positively contribute to the social fabric of regional locations,” she said.

“This is particularly significant given that, over the past five years, there has been a spike in interest from government and regional communities for increased settlement of refugees outside Australia’s major cities.

Associate Professor Sue Watt, the lead researcher from UNE noted that, as with any community, attitudes were not uniformly positive.

“What we found over six surveys was clusters of community attitudes on a spectrum. Over time the clusters of positive attitudes expanded, and negative clusters reduced.”

Ms Agha said in supporting refugee resettlement in Armidale, SSI took a whole-of-community approach, in recognition of the fact that successful settlement and integration is a two-way process where both refugees and host communities mutually adapt and become entwined in the fabric of local community life.

“Results from this whole-of-community approach are positive, with a high retention of new arrivals and positive social and economic outcomes for both newcomers and the host community,” she said.

“The experience of Australia’s newest refugee resettlement location could be replicated in other regional areas to deliver dual benefits to both host communities and refugees.”

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