Australia: Engaging refugees for a disaster resilient Illawarra

Wollongong City Council

Wollongong City Council today marks the International Day for Disaster Reduction 2017 theme ‘Home Safe Home’ with a commitment to inform, engage and partner with refugee households for a disaster-resilient Illawarra.

This commitment follows a recent partnership with the University of Wollongong’s Australian Centre for Cultural Environmental Research, other local city councils, emergency management services, multicultural services, and diverse refugee communities in the Illawarra.

Funded by a NSW Office of Emergency Management 2017 Community Resilience Innovation Program grant, the University of Wollongong managed doctoral research project – ‘Resilient Together’, aims to provide insights into how refugee households learn about local natural hazards such as bushfire, storm surge and flash flooding, and what they do to feel safe and secure.

Based on in-depth interviews with 26 refugee households and 12 local organisations across the Illawarra, the research findings show that information on local hazards can be particularly important for refugees, even pre-arrival.

Within the first year of living in the Illawarra, refugees can experience the impacts of bushfire, storm, flooding, heatwave and sea-related hazards.

The findings show that as the first and most familiar point of contact, humanitarian settlement services, local multicultural services and places of worship have an important and untapped role in providing systematic access to hazard information and preparedness training.

Beyond the need for information dissemination to new arrivals, the research underlines the need for a multi-sectoral approach to partnering with emerging refugee communities in the Illawarra.

“People from a refugee background have come from challenging situations, otherwise they wouldn’t be here, and from those lived experiences we have an opportunity to learn and they to contribute to building our disaster resilience as a community,” Wollongong City Lord Mayor Gordon Bradbery OAM said.

“While they need better access to information on local and seasonal hazards, they also have much to contribute to disaster resilience efforts in the Illawarra.”

The research project has developed a resilience narrative mapping tool to show the range of skills, experiences and capacities refugee households bring to the Illawarra.

Information revealed by such mapping can be vital for strengthening partnerships with community to deliver more timely, relevant and culturally appropriate services to diverse households before, during and after a disaster.

The resilience narrative maps will be presented at a community workshop hosted by Wollongong City Council on 3 November, 2017.

At the upcoming workshop, representatives from diverse refugee communities, local institutions and services will also aim to discuss complex Illawarra-wide problems encountered by newly arrived and recently settled refugee families.

Issues for discussion will include timely access to hazard and risk information, safe housing, household preparedness, neighbourhood emergency support groups, pathways to training and volunteering for the emergency services, and opportunities for forging multi-sectoral partnerships with new and emerging refugee communities.

The research is implemented in partnership with Wollongong City Council, NSW Rural Fire Service, Illawarra Multicultural Services, Multicultural Communities Council of Illawarra, the Strategic Community Assistance to Refugee Families, and community representatives including former refugees living in the Illawarra.

Research observers include NSW State Emergency Service, Multicultural NSW, Shellharbour City Council, Kiama Municipal Council, Masjid As-Salam in Berkeley, Australian Red Cross and the International Organization for Migration’s ‘Migrants in Countries in Crisis Initiative’.

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