A unique approach to regional refugee settlement is delivering strong results for integration and refugee retention in the new settlement location of Armidale, offering insights that will guide other regional centres seeking to welcome newcomers as long-term members of their communities.
The whole-of-community approach also addresses a recommendation in the Federal Government’s recently released Investing in Refugees, Investing in Australia review regarding the promotion of opportunities for regional settlement.
Community organisation and social business Settlement Services International (SSI) has overseen the settlement of over 300 refugees from Iraq and Syria in Armidale since February 2018 under the Federal Government’s Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP).
Two documents to be launched by SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis in Armidale on November 29 demonstrate how a whole-of-community approach to refugee settlement that accommodates the needs of refugees and host communities leads to a high retention of new arrivals.
Ms Roumeliotis said that approach could be instrumental in the success of regional settlement strategies across Australia.
SSI provides new arrivals with contracted HSP services, such as housing, orientation to community, links to education programs, training and employment assistance.
In tandem with those services, SSI has implemented an integrated model of community engagement that activates the involvement of the wider community in settlement.
The Armidale community has welcomed Ezidi refugees with open arms. Connections have been forged through community events, volunteerism, newcomer-driven initiatives, engagement through the Arts and connections with sporting groups. At the same time, positive community attitudes toward the Ezidi refugees have strengthened.
The Government panel reviewing Integration, Employment and Settlement Outcomes for Refugees and Humanitarian Entrants in Australia said in order to support and assist regional communities to develop locally led approaches the Government should encourage communities to explore the potential of regional settlement and bring together all levels of government, community, and business to facilitate stronger planning, coordination and evaluation of regional settlement.
“SSI’s success in Armidale shows the benefits settlement brings for both regional host communities and those on humanitarian visas,” Ms Roumeliotis said.
“Welcoming newcomers to regional sites can stimulate local regional economies, boost workforces and offset population decline. For the newcomers, a regional environment can offer a warmer, less confronting settlement experience than that available in cities.”
Ms Roumeliotis said to realise the full potential of regional settlement arrangements it was essential that the host community found meaningful ways to welcome and support newcomers and that the newcomers felt empowered, welcomed and at home in their new environment.
All in for Armidale: A whole-of-community approach to Ezidi settlement explored how SSI’s whole-of-community approach was doing just that, she said.
While All in for Armidale illustrates how the Armidale community has mobilised around the new arrivals, another paper contains research revealing increasingly positive attitudes towards refugees settling in Armidale across clusters of the local community.
The monograph, Monitoring community attitudes toward refugee settlement in Armidale, NSW, was written by Sue Watts from the University of New England and Tadgh McMahon and Trina Soulos from SSI.
Through a series of three pulse surveys, they assessed host community attitudes, concerns and responses to the arrival of refugees in the first 12 months of settlement.
Positive attitudes were tempered by a decreasing minority who felt negatively about the arrival of refugees. The main concerns were perceptions of the effect on local jobs, the adequacy of local services to support refugees and concern that refugees might not integrate.
Ms Roumeliotis said, “This is the first time a researcher in Australia has looked at the attitudes and social conditions of the host community. Understanding the host community is fundamental to delivering services in regional Australia.”