What successful settlement of migrants, refugees needs and delivers to regional Australia

Refugee and migrant settlement agency AMES Australia recently published research that looks into the economic and social and impact of the settlement of relatively large numbers of refugees at Bendigo, in Central Victoria.

Its CEO Cath Scarth outlines the findings below. They include a significant net benefit to the region and confirm the necessary conditions for successful settlement.

Regional settlement of refugee communities – the evidence

The  Regional Futures: Economic and social impact of the Karen resettlement in Bendigo report was produced jointly by Deloitte Access Economics and  AMES Australia.

It set out to analyse the social and economic impact of Karen refugees settled in Bendigo over the past decade. Currently, around 1000 Karen live in Bendigo.

While this report focuses on the Karen, there are other significant cohorts of refugees living in Bendigo, including Sudanese and Afghans, and to whose presence in the city this report has relevance.

The report found the settlement of refugees at Bendigo has contributed economically and culturally to the life of the city while offering opportunities for employment and social participation to refugee communities.

It found their settlement has added almost $70 million to the local economy over a decade while also enhancing the city’s rich multicultural traditions.

The report found that in net present value terms (NPV) over a ten year period, the total economic impact from the regional resettlement of the Karen population on the Bendigo economy is estimated to have been $67.1 million, with an associated impact on employment of an extra 177 full-time-equivalent jobs.

It also found that because of the youthful demographic profile of the Karen population, the Karen labour force will continue to grow over time, adding to the productive capacity of the region in years to come.

The report found the resettlement of the Karen in Bendigo has been sustained over a decade because of the region’s attractiveness as a settlement location for this community – and has progressively contributed to a more ethnically diverse Bendigo.

This has impacted many aspects of Bendigo society, including an increase in social capital. Social capital has been directly linked to broader concepts such as social cohesion, democracy, economic wellbeing and sustainability.

The Karen in Bendigo have experienced improved standards of living, including home ownership, and greater opportunities and career pathways for young people, according to the report.

We at AMES Australia believe the study shows there is potential for settling more refugees and migrants in regional Australia.

The report follows an earlier similar study on the settlement of refugees at Nhill, in western Victoria, who were encouraged to take up positions with a local employer seeking to expand its operations but unable to find local labour sources.

Both of these reports identify the necessary conditions for successful settlement, which include employment and educational opportunities, affordable housing and a welcoming host community.

Regional settlement of migrants and refugees is a topical and important component in the advancement of Australia’s migration strategies and, when well-facilitated, it can make a significant contribution to the economic as well as the cultural social fabric of regional towns and cities.

There are many regional communities faced with issues around ageing populations and labour shortages. This study shows that refugees, and migrants more generally, can play a role in securing the future prosperity of regional communities across Australia while also offering refugee communities employment, education and lifestyle opportunities that are perhaps not available in our larger cities.

We at AMES Australia believe that properly managed regional settlement programs can deliver benefits to people who are newly arrived to Australia as well as to host regional communities and to Australia’s over all migrant and humanitarian settlement programs.

Former refugee Nay Chee Aung, a case worker and interpreter in Bendigo, arrived in the city with his mother and brother several years ago after spending several years in a refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border.

The Karen community leader says his community have settled well in Bendigo and enjoy the city and its welcoming community.

“It is a wonderful city to live in. Everyone is friendly and there are so many people from so many backgrounds and fields of endeavour,” Nay Chee said.

AMES Australia provides humanitarian settlement services through the Federal Government’s Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP) in Victoria, South Australia and Tasmania.

AMES Australia also provides education, training and employment programs to newly arrived migrants and refugees. It supports more than 40,000 clients annually from a staff base of approximately 800 staff and a volunteer network of 2000.

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