Celebrating Refugee Week 2020

graphic of leaves


Last week Australia celebrated National Refugee Week from 15 to 22 June. The theme was ‘Celebrating the Year of Welcome’.

Intereach not only chooses to recognise Refugee Week 2020 but additionally welcomes the diversity and cultural wealth that refugees and asylum seekers bring to the make-up of regional and rural communities. From day to day and in reflection, Intereach continues to learn how to do this better.

Intereach is spread across regional and rural Victoria and NSW, and is well-positioned to engage with people from a Culturally and Linguistically Diverse (CALD) background and provide services and supports to link them to their community and Intereach programs during their initial and secondary settlement. This occurs in initial settlement locations such as Bendigo, Shepparton, Swan Hill, Mildura, Albury, Wagga Wagga and the secondary location of Griffith where 18% of the local community is born in another country compared with 11% elsewhere in regional NSW.

Intereach is continually learning from our engagement with refugee and asylum-seeking communities in each of these locations; this presents opportunities for how we are welcomed in and communicate with these communities.  At times this may include the use of interpreters to facilitate the presentation of information about Intereach services and supports in ways that are culturally appropriate and accessible.  Sometimes it is as simple as understanding that ideas, concepts and practices don’t always translate from ‘clunky’ English language to another community language. Other learnings include bringing people together to share their own culture through food.  This is one simple communication method which demonstrates the need to continue to think ‘outside the box’ about discussions with different communities.

Intereach has learned the important notions of family, and that ‘extended family’ needs to be thought about differently when working with our different communities. It is important to understand that you are communicating with an entire family and sometimes an entire community, not simply individuals. Intereach acknowledges that whilst many refugees may have become disconnected from immediate family during the asylum-seeking process, other members from their communities can take on familial roles of ‘aunty’, ‘uncle’ and ‘grandparents’ to make up their extended family.  It becomes necessary for us to understand that when these individuals and communities speak about ‘family’ they are speaking about a collective or peoples rather than western notions of ‘nuclear family’.

Intereach understands there is always potential and opportunities for new ways and styles to communicate and build rapport depending on the culture, history and journey of the particular refugee communities. It is common for a level of mistrust to be present when working with different multicultural communities, especially if the people have refugee and asylum seeking experience(s) in their life.  The services currently delivered by Intereach as a not-for-profit community-based organisation are commonly delivered by foreign Government organisations in their own country of origin, or where they were initially displaced. The same Governments may have a negative Human Rights history and have detained refugees for a sustained period of time, sometimes on multiple occasions. What does this mean for Intereach?  We ensure we are considered and understand some of these complexities when we are communicating in culturally appropriate ways.

Intereach works alongside key Ethnic Councils to learn and develop our practices to suit the need of the community. Recent learning through this partnership was about gendered communication, regardless of the Intereach staff member’s gender; it is only appropriate within some cultures to communicate with the male member of the household. However, as it was highlighted by the community it is important to understand that it may actually be the woman, or a matrilineal household member, who makes all the household decisions, such as the go-ahead for a child with support needs to receive assistance from external services to the family.  This can sometimes explain why an initial positive response about services and supports may change the next time you are in contact with the family.

For more information about Refugee Week visit https://www.refugeeweek.org.au/