Australia21 and YoungA21 youth roundtables on Refugee and Asylum Seeker Policy
“I want to live in an Australia where the Prime Minister has been a detainee and knows what it’s like”.
Australia21 and YoungA21 held two youth roundtables on Refugee and Asylum Seeker Policy with young people aged 18-30 in 2014. On 5 May a roundtable was held in Canberra with support from the Crawford School at ANU, with 38 young people from the general public. On 2 July another roundtable was held with Settlement Services International (SSI) in Sydney with 35 young people, specifically of refugee and asylum seeker background. In both workshops we used a rich picture diagramming approach with participants—to understand their preferred futures around refugee and asylum seeker policy.
The discussions from both roundtables were remarkably wide- ranging and insightful and had much overlap in content and opinion, despite participants being from very different experiential and cultural backgrounds.
The conversations at both roundtables reflected a strong desire for change in policy and practice in Australia, and a sense of disillusionment about the public perceptions of refugee and asylum seekers. Frustration and disappointment with current policy around refugee and asylum seeker issues was also strongly expressed.
At the Canberra roundtable many expressed sadness and disappointment about the treatment of refugee and asylum seekers. There was much concern particularly around mental health of people in detention and in communities. It was emphasised that policy makers and public should be encouraged to reframe their current ways of thinking about refugee and asylum seekers, and be more open, sincere and unprejudiced in their discourse on the topic. Calls were also made for improved leadership, and for Australia as a nation to be more cognizant of equality under the law, and our moral and international obligations.
At the Sydney roundtable (with participants of refugee and asylum seeker background), the overarching message was that the refugee journey is long and difficult. “I thought when I got to Australia the hard part was over, but now I have to start again from nothing. It is hard in a different way. I can’t seem to get a start anywhere and it is hard to have hope until I can.” After arriving in the settlement country most people need a range of personally targeted supports to settle successfully, particularly in communities where refugee status carries stigma. Some of the current policy settings seem designed to frustrate that journey rather than support it, and to waste human potential. People appeared to be resilient and energetic but sorely tried.
The discussions from these two roundtables were summarised and reported on by a youth representative at the Australia21 expert roundtable on Refugee and Asylum Seekers held on 11 July at Parliament House.