Research to help refugees in Canberra

21 August 2015

If refugees and migrants become connected with the population it has a big economic boost. If that doesn't happen it can become a massive drain of social resources.

Helping asylum seekers and refugees integrate into the community is the goal of a research project to be rolled out in Canberra.

The project, which has already seen success in Victoria, is being led by Professor Giles Hirst who has been appointed as The Australian National University's (ANU) inaugural Chair of Leadership.

Professor Hirst said key to the program's success was understanding the challenges refugees face with a sudden change in cultures.

"A lot of the program focuses on life-stories," he said.

"We see Sudanese kids that have been involved in armed conflict who are suddenly told what's important is to do well in a maths test. It's a world away."

Keeping families together was another focus of the Australian Research Council funded project.

"For many of the females we work with, the world opens up in front of them. It's a new life and they flourish," he said.

"Where there are men who feel emasculated, they are often people who were very high up in their social strata and now can't find work, or can only find menial work.

"It's a real challenge to keep those families together."

The project team works with refugee groups to track the progress of those being integrated into local communities as well as to deliver programs to build skills and confidence.

"We're working to measure the likelihood of refuges finding jobs and taking on positive community leadership roles," Professor Hirst said.

"Our program helps people articulate their issues and structure their strategies for job seeking. It helps them understand the sequential process for finding work."

Professor Hirst believes Australia has a duty of care to refugees accepted into the country.

"We need a standard of care not just for good-will, but there's very much an economic and social argument for it," he said.

"If refugees and migrants become connected with the population it has a big economic boost. If that doesn't happen it can become a massive drain of social resources."