Making 'another' future: Syrian and Iraqi refugee families

Year: 2018

Author: Reid, Carol

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

Australia increased its intake of refugees by an additional 12,000 in 2016. Refugees from Syria and Iraq were specifically targeted and began arriving from late 2016 until early 2018. This paper discusses this cohort, sometimes considered ‘exceptional’ in media discourses, through an analysis of the first phase of a three-year study into their settlement in NSW, Queensland and Victoria. The paper has a focus on two aspects, English language learning among adults and belonging and friendships among school-aged young people. These two areas emerged as significant in the data, both in interviews and a small survey.
The literature on refugees is now substantial but often the specificity of different cohorts is erased through the category ‘refugee’. Strategies, outcomes and experiences vary considerably however and here there is a need to examine a range of complexities using a post-migration ecology model (Nilsson and Bunar, 2016), which includes the legal, organisational, and pedagogical. The data this paper draws on is from the first year of three in a longitudinal study of 250 refugee families’ settlement. In an era of global mobility family life is often overlooked, especially the stretched-across-borders families where care is local and global (Baldassar, 2016). Strategies in other countries become models for what might be in the narratives of refugees. For families, long distance care relations may initially replace the local, including for young people.
First the paper discusses the urgent need to differentiate different kinds of learning in English in order to amplify the urgency for change in teaching adults. The government’s agenda is now one of integration, measured by employment. This jostles with the need to learn English and confronted with an either/or scenario refugees vote with their feet.
Second, young people in these families, while very happy and in the main doing quite well, find school very separate to their lives. They have multilingual friendships at school, although this is not always the case in areas of high density of one linguistic group of refugees. However, most do not yet feel they belong but are hopeful they will. They feel safe, but do not spend time out of school with locally born students. They desire more connection with ‘Australian’ students while at the same time maintaining connections with their global network of friends and family.
The paper concludes with thoughts and questions about the next stage of the project.