Never-Ending Trauma: A Tale of Refugees

There are many cross-roads, intersections, paths, and tracks to choose from. With every step, a new and different crossroad or intersection emerges- forward, back, right, left, diagonal, in different degrees. At the beginning of the journey, we are not sure where it will end nor what will be discovered- Morgan (2000, p. 3). 

Becoming a refugee affects all aspects of one’s life. Therefore, it is not surprising that refugee issues are studied within and across various disciplines (Castles, 2003). This essay provides a detailed account of the ongoing impact of displacement and encampment of refugees who do not have access to resettlement support services or are resettled in locations of cultural and linguistic diversity. Following the journeys of displaced families who left South Asia to seek resettlement in Australia. This is framed around the concept of a journey that prepares for the road ahead by examining literature from the fields of refugee studies, education and career development. 

To know the road ahead, ask those coming back. -Chinese Proverb 

The article is divided into three sections: (i) global, national and local perspectives on refugee issues; (ii) migration and resettlement in Australia; and (iii) education and career pathways.

Despite the official definition of the Refugee Council of Australia, 2006c the current article adopts a broader perspective which recognizes that “it is the refugee-like experience rather than the official designation as a refugee… that defines the relevant population” (Coventry et all, 2002, p. 13). Therefore, it involves South Asian refugees who migrated to Australia with visas within the humanitarian migration stream, including Refugee (200), Special Humanitarian Program (202), and Woman at Risk (204) visas. These refugees need not continually be defined by their status as humanitarian entrants. Some writers have used the term “people with refugee experience” (Department of Education and Children’s Services, 2007) and “from refugee backgrounds.” The term “refugee young people” is used in the context of literature pertaining to youth (Ignacio Correa-Velez & Gerald Onsando, 2013). This terminology assumes a more inclusive paradigm, demonstrating respect to individuals while acknowledging their previous refugee experience. 

South Asia has been and remains a site of struggle and conflict. Some authors have suggested that fundamental causes of the conflict concerned economic and political exclusion, instability, poverty and injustices (Woodley, D. 2015). Regardless of their origins, it is clear that these conflicts have shaped the lives of millions of people and have significantly contributed to the global refugee situation. 

The road doesn't tell the traveller what lies ahead. -Chinese Proverb

When individuals become refugees, their entire social world is overturned, resulting in a loss of life’s repetitious, recursive patterning (Mintzberg, 2009). Therefore, that profound loss is a defining characteristic of the refugee experience, typically involving multiple losses of personal, physical, economic, social and cultural resources (Wilson, Murtaza, & Shakya, 2010). The refugees are not well prepared to face such a diverse range of problems; as a result, they are caught unprepared and unaware of a web of issues (Barber, 2021). These are issues which they cannot control or resolve as they are refugees in an unknown territory with limited rights. As a result, they suffer from double mental trauma, one of fleeing from their home country and the second of adjusting to the new and unreceptive environment of the host country. Unfortunately, most of the asylum seekers have to stay in detention centres. Numerous studies have been conducted which clearly highlight that the health of children as well as adults in detention centres is jeopardized (Killedar & Harris, 2017). 

With an extensive migration history, Australia is among the top ten recipient countries for refugees (RCOA 2022) and is considered to take more refugees than any other country relative to its population. There are two major entry pathways: United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees resettlement programme and Irregular Maritime Arrivals (IMAs) seeking asylum. However, the Australian Government's policies towards IMAs since July 2013 are controversial, inflexible, and consistently strict, with asylum seekers held in detention centres for prolonged periods (Earnest ET all, 2015). Statistics show that 940,159 refugees arrived through offshore resettlement and onshore protection processes between 1 January 1947 and 30 June 2022 (Refugee Council of Australia, 2023). However, the government must act on a pledge for more refugee places as global displacement reaches an all-time high. The Australian Labor Party has committed itself to reversing recent cuts to the Refugee and Humanitarian Program and increasing it to 27,000 places a year with 5,000 additional places for community sponsorship (RCOA 2023). Australia’s Humanitarian Program is reviewed annually and involves assessments conducted by the UNHCR regarding the resettlement needs of onshore and offshore refugees (RCOA 2021). The World Health Organization's Quality Rights Tool Kit would possibly function as the inspiration for a framework to reform Australia's immigration detention system, with a unique emphasis on drastically improving the bad intellectual fitness of detained asylum seekers (Campbell et al., 2015).

“No one puts their children in a boat unless the water is safer than the land.” Warsan Shire (Poem - Home)

Refugees flee their countries of origin due to supreme hardship and threat to life, frequently having witnessed mass atrocities. Resettlement is motivated by a sense of security and opportunity involving access to food, accommodation, and freedom from dangers (Garnier, Jubilut, & Sandvik, 2018). The course of resettlement often involves a series of inherently complex transitions. Asylum seekers and refugees have distinct stressors, which can create additional challenges. The grade to which these challenges are embraced impacts the ability to adapt. According to Khawaja et al. (2008), refugees utilize several coping strategies across all phases, including crediting religious beliefs, social support, and cognitive approaches such as reframing the situation, relying on their central resources, and focusing on future desires and aspirations. Themes documented by research (Earnest ET all. 2015) that language, its impact, and experience with education, health, and social events, support structures provided to refugees, and supporting future goals are critical to successful resettlement. Fluency in English, especially spoken, was considered a facilitator of successful resettlement in Australia. 

“Refugees didn’t just escape a place. They had to escape a thousand memories until they’d put enough time and distance between them and their misery to wake to a better day.” Nadia Hashimi

Every immigrant seeking asylum has a unique tale of where they came from, their journey, and achieving protection in Australia. Clinicians (Stroja, 2022) are exposed to tragic stories when providing treatment to refugees who have suffered torture and trauma. Furthermore, therapists who deal with asylum seekers are frequently obliged to operate in the setting of deportation proceedings and ambiguity about their clients' futures, thereby aggravating the already challenging nature of trauma treatment and negatively impacting professional wellbeing. The sharing of tales allows these professionals (Posselt et al., 2019; Posselt et al., 2020) to commemorate and honour their journey and educate the communities about the fortitude and commitment that refugees make. 

Despite South Asia's cultural, linguistic and genetic diversity, three central elements have been recognized. These include kinship, spirituality and collective practices and beliefs. Asian cultures are, therefore, outlined by a collectivist ideology in which collaboration and interdependence are emphasized (Missbach, A. 2022). When these refugees migrate to Australia, they do so in the context of transitioning from a collectivist culture to a predominantly individualist society in which there are different orientations of time and approaches to social interactions (Neblett et al., 2010). Contrary to the general perception that relocation to Australia is a smooth process, new refugees to Australia have reported (Stroja, J. 2022) substantial difficulties in the transition phase. In addition to this, most of them have a hard time acquiring accommodation, education, health, and employment and are subjected to plenty more tiers of mental and emotional misery than the common population. 


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About the Author

Alyka M: Manager NDIS Australia

Shazia Munir: Specialist Behaviour Practitioner, Australia

Laesa: Melbourne University, Australia