University of Tasmania
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Refugee settlement and the process of belonging in regional Australia : a grounded theory study in Launceston, Tasmania

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posted on 2024-05-03, 00:04 authored by James, ID

Currently, the world faces a refugee crisis of unprecedented magnitude and complexity, with approximately 98 million displaced people, including 1.4 million requiring urgent protection by resettlement in a third country (UNHCR, 2021; 2022a). Before the COVID-19 pandemic, Australia received and resettled 18,750 refugees annually as permanent residents with the policy objective of integration, meaning 'participating fully and independently in the Australian society and economy' (DSS, 2017: 3). 'Integration' is now the predominant sociological concept for analysing the settlement and adjustment of immigrants in the Global North, but there is no agreed scholarly definition of the term (Castles et al., 2003; Neumann et al., 2014; Phillimore, 2021).

In late 2017, the Australian Government adopted a neoliberal approach to refugee settlement, introducing wide-ranging settlement policy and practice changes with a short-term focus on economic outcomes and a move towards 'workfare' (Boese et al., 2021: 4072). An empirical sociological analysis of these changes has not been undertaken. Missing from the literature is an understanding of how individuals from diverse disadvantaged and traumatic backgrounds acculturate and acquire the social capital to thrive in a new host society.

The research aim was to analyse and understand the experiences and perceptions of former refugees who arrived in Launceston, Tasmania, in the six years to 30 June 2020. In the period under review, Launceston accommodated five successive waves of refugees: Chin Burmese, Nepali Bhutanese, Hazara Afghans, and refugees from Eritrea and Ethiopia.

The research consisted of a qualitative constructivist grounded theory study interviewing a sample of 56 former refugees in Launceston and eight senior officials from local settlement service providers. Former refugees were recruited as participants without the involvement of service providers. In-depth semi-structured interviews allowed the participants to raise issues that were important to them. The resulting interview dataset contains a thick description of their pre-arrival and post-arrival experiences. This study involved an analysis of the dataset using a new framework for the micro, meso, and macro levels of refugee settlement developed from a similar outline by Faist (1997).

This research contributes to sociological knowledge of the process of refugee settlement and identifies the concept of belonging as particularly useful for understanding settlement from the perspective of former refugees themselves. Analysis of the interview dataset revealed that most participants did not understand or relate to the idea of integration as understood in either the sociological literature or in Australian settlement policy. Instead, they wanted to make a new home where they would be safe, respected and belong. This study uses the concepts of 'homemaking' (Boccagni, 2017) and 'belonging' (Antonsich, 2010; Yuval-Davis, 2006) to develop a more comprehensive sociological and policy lens that provides a better understanding of the needs and aspirations of the participants. However, the concepts of homemaking and belonging explained what the participants wanted to achieve but not how they could reach a state of belonging. This thesis proposes a novel process of belonging as a heuristic device for refugee settlement. This device charts the settlement journey of individuals from their pre-migration experiences to belonging as members of the host society. The process of belonging provides an interconnected analytical tool to dissect and compare the experiences and perceptions of refugees from different ethnic groups.

This study is important and timely because it is the first investigation of a regional settlement location in Australia under the current policy settings. This study questions the effectiveness of Australia's refugee settlement policy and practice because the new programs fail to meet the Government's economic objectives at a local level in Launceston. These new programs also fail to address the needs of refugees and former refugees who want to belong and make a home in Launceston. In addition, this study has broader implications. The current policy and programs are standard across Australia, and they were introduced in 2017 and amended in late 2019. The Australian Government aims to settle 50 per cent of all newly arriving refugees in regional locations. Therefore, the findings from this research should inform policymakers and stakeholders at all levels of Government in Australia.



  • PhD Thesis


xxii, 449 pages


School of Social Sciences


University of Tasmania

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  • Unpublished

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Copyright 2022 the author.

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