• Rikki Lambert

'Racialised' rural communities ill-equipped to care for refugees: study

A University of South Australia study claims rural and regional South Australian communities lack the skills to adequately assist Ukrainian refugees and others integrating into Australian community life.

The study published in the International Journal of Inclusive Education was highlighted on Friday to pre-empt Refugee Week commencing Sunday 19 June, including World Refugee Day on Monday 20 June.

The review includes findings by UniSA researcher Jennifer Brown that rural schools are key sites of support for refugee students and their families, but too often operate in 'racialised' communities that are unfamiliar with diverse student needs.

"Racialised" communities are those in which certain traits or activities are attributed to people from minorities, for example a belief that terrorist acts are perpetrated by Islamists or people of Arab-Muslim descent.

Ms Brown said on Friday that Australia’s policy of settling refugees into rural areas must be accompanied with thoughtful, timely, and relevant access to professional learning for staff.

“In Australia and around the world, refugee resettlement policy favours a ‘dispersal’ approach, where refugees are settled into rural and regional locations as a means of extending populations from metropolitan centres and rejuvenating rural locations.”
“Rural schools are on the front line of resettling refugees, yet many schools feel under-supported and uncertain about how best to help. So, while current policies are dispersing refugees across rural areas, they’re not accounting for, nor proving appropriate support to schools, services, and communities.
“Consequently, refugee children and families are not receiving appropriate help or support. Worse still, many face racialised attitudes from within the community, views that are often mirrored in schools.”

UniSA refugee education expert Dr Melanie Baak said policymakers must better understand the nuances of regional and rural communities and help them welcome refugees.

“Understanding the unique needs and strengths of refugee-background students and their families is central to enabling schools to support these new populations.
“Unless communities are properly educated and aware of the benefits of diversity and the plight of refugees, we will continue to deliver sub-optimal services.
“Appropriate resourcing for rural schools is a starting point, but training and opportunities for intercultural learning and engagement must also occur within communities if we are really to deliver change.”