Lorans Al Gheeth came to Australia as a refugee from the Syrian conflict with over 20 years’ experience working in luxury hotels, but one of his greatest struggles as a new arrival was re-establishing his career.
Lorans had built a successful career in Syria and neighbouring countries, but when war broke out in 2011 and a bomb dropped just metres from his home he knew he had to leave. He contacted a former employer in Jordan, who helped Lorans and his family leave Damascus. The family waited in Jordan for three years, hoping the war would subside, but eventually sought refuge in Australia.
Here, the family happily “makes the most with whatever we have”, he says. However, like other refugees, he has found his job applications rejected because of a "lack of local experience" in his area of expertise while also being considered “overqualified” for jobs such as waiting tables.
It is this sort of resettlement experience that will be tracked in a million-dollar, Australian-led global study which will proceed after securing $450,000 in the latest round of grants from the Australian Research Council,
The project will track the experiences of refugees from the Syrian conflict as they seek to rebuild their lives here and in six other countries over the next three years.
The study aims to highlight best practices in refugee support around the world so they can be applied to policy and programs internationally, says Professor of Social Economics Jock Collins of UTS Business School.
It will focus on 250 families in New South Wales, Victoria and Queensland in Australia, interviewing them annually for three years after arrival. Their social, educational and employment experiences will be compared with those of refugee families in the UK, Canada, Sweden, Finland, Germany and New Zealand.
We hope this research will improve employment, education and settlement outcomes for refugees
Prof Jock Collins
The study will be led by Professor Collins along with Professor Carol Reid from Western Sydney University and Dr Dimitria Groutsis of the University of Sydney. Partners from the settlement services sector will also be involved, including Settlement Services International (SSI) in Sydney, which has provided Lorans with support.
Families to be covered in the study include Syrians and Iraqis being accepted under the Australian Government’s special intake of 12,000 refugees from the Syrian conflict – a quota announced in 2015 but not yet filled – as well as those arriving as part of the annual humanitarian intake.
“We hope this research will improve employment, education and settlement outcomes for refugees from the Syrian conflict – and for other refugees in the future,” Professor Collins says. “The Syrian conflict has generated an unprecedented flow of refugees across Europe and other countries, including Australia. This has given rise to resettlement challenges, including how to provide these new arrivals with employment and education in the best way to achieve social inclusion and integration.”
According to a new report from the United Nations, 65.6 million people were forced to leave their homes in 2016, the highest number since World War II. Half of those who fled were children. Of that group, 20 million left their home countries, while the rest remained within their borders as internally displaced people.
While many Syrian-conflict refugees have tertiary qualifications, finding work is difficult, he says. One study found that a third of refugees remained unemployed after three years of settlement and many of those who did find work experienced “occupational skidding” – taking low-skilled and low-paid jobs not commensurate with their qualifications.
“Yet, employment is acknowledged as the centrepiece of successful settlement,” Prof Collins notes.
The study will also fill a knowledge gap by specifically looking at the experiences of the children of refugees. As well as targeting suburbs and towns with high populations of Syrian-conflict refugees, researchers will focus on schools with a high number of children from this group.
The project is being funded by the Australian Government through the ARC’s Linkage Projects scheme. It will be conducted in collaboration with community organisations SSI, Access Community Services, AMES Australia and MDA Ltd, who will provide $180,000 in cash and $510,000 of ‘in-kind’ support.
The international government and research collaborators are:
Germany has received more than 1 million refugees from the Syrian conflict, while Canada has already settled 30,000, Professor Collins says. “Finland is an example of smaller European country dealing with unprecedented refugee intakes, while, as a close neighbour, New Zealand is a partner with us on immigration.”
In Australia, the researchers will focus on areas with high refugee populations, such as Auburn, Bankstown, Fairfield and Liverpool in NSW; Dandenong, Sunshine, Broadmeadows and St Albans in Victoria; and Logan and Inala in Queensland, as well as regional areas such as the Illawarra and Newcastle in NSW.
SSI CEO Violet Roumeliotis says the project will help SSI and other settlement groups refine the services they deliver to support refugees.
“Our services help refugees find meaningful work, access education, gain skills and recognition of their qualifications, improve their English and, ultimately, grow in confidence and independence,” she says.
“This study of Syrian refugee experiences here, and the comparison with international models, will be invaluable in informing what we do to ensure a smooth settlement journey.”