The International Organization for Migration (IOM) has played a vital role in the resettlement of refugees for more than 70 years, recognizing resettlement to third countries as one of the durable solutions for people fleeing war, violence, conflict, or persecution. As part of this work, IOM has been collaborating closely with Australia – one of a relatively small number of countries that operates an annual resettlement program for refugees and humanitarian entrants, having provided a permanent home for more than 930,000 individuals since the end of World War II.
Australia’s Humanitarian Program Stream has two main components: onshore protection and offshore resettlement for people outside of Australia who might need to access the Refugee and Special Humanitarian Program visa categories.
The Australian Government Department of Home Affairs has engaged Humanitarian Settlement Program (HSP) providers to facilitate a wide range of services that assist refugees and humanitarian entrants after their arrival. The Department also funds IOM to implement the pre-departure Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) program.
AUSCO has contributed to the successful integration of Australia-bound beneficiaries since 2003 and has welcomed more than 120,000 participants in its classes. The program’s primary objectives are to present a realistic picture of life in Australia, provide accurate and practical information on departure and settlement processes, encourage language learning, and equip attendees with the tools to adapt culturally, socially and economically.
The non-mandatory course usually is delivered over five days with 25 contact hours, utilizing a variety of learning methodologies, and is tailored to meet the needs of beneficiaries over the age of five. Course content covers a wide range of themes, including travel to Australia, settlement services, health, housing, employment, education, law, financial management, safety, culture shock and more. Childcare arrangements are also part of the program. During the COVID-19 interim period, training was adjusted to provide for increased access, participation, and inclusion of participants remotely; however, classroom learning has now recommenced in most locations.
In order to share the vast insights gained through facilitation across the globe, the AUSCO management team, based at IOM Thailand, recently attended the Humanitarian Settlement Provider Orientation Conference in Brisbane, which provided an opportunity for Australian-based service agencies and the Department of Home Affairs to discuss best practices in onshore orientation. In sharing IOM’s experience on course delivery through the COVID-19 pandemic, including through participation in a panel discussion with representatives from the Australian Government and the University of Canberra, it was apparent that the learnings from COVID-19 would assist in paving the path to the future. There was agreement that the challenges of digital inclusion – access (to the internet and safe, private learning), ability (to access digital communication channels) and affordability (of digital tools) – will continue to be prevalent for refugees and humanitarian entrants and remain important considerations in the resettlement context.
Insights were shared on how AUSCO trainers are managing beneficiaries’ expectations in relation to post-arrival housing, also alleviating participants’ concerns regarding their rights and obligations as tenants in their new home country. An open forum and collaborative brainstorm sessions between HSP and AUSCO focused on optimizing connections between offshore and onshore-based agencies to enhance outcomes for program beneficiaries, especially in a time of competing priorities across the globe and limited funding for resettlement service provision.
Having the opportunity to engage in-person with Australia-based service providers further reinforced the value of initiatives offered by the AUSCO Global Office, including facilitation of training to service providers and preparation of monthly updates to the Department on the needs and trends observed during pre-departure orientation.
In reflecting on the professionalism and passion of colleagues in the offshore and onshore contexts, one can feel reassured that the shared focus on improving settlement outcomes for beneficiaries is key to the success of resettlement programs. Responding well to people’s individual needs, assisting them in strengthening their capabilities and knowledge, and creating a positive and confident mindset even prior to arrival in their new home country remains the impetus for our work in pre-departure cultural orientation.
Note: AUSCO has been facilitated in permanent delivery countries, including in South-East Asia (Indonesia, Malaysia, and Thailand), South Asia (India, Nepal and Pakistan), the Middle East and North Africa (Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Lebanon, and Turkey,), Sub-Saharan Africa (Kenya), and Central and South America (El Salvador). Classes have also been held on an ad hoc basis in mobile locations in more than 50 other countries.
Written by Constanze Voelkel-Hutchison, AUSCO Global Coordinator
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