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Refugee resettlement gives regional community $100m boost – study

25 February 20200 comments

A decade-long program to resettle refugees in a struggling regional Victorian town has added more than $100 million and 156 jobs to the local economy and resulted in positive social outcomes for the settling refugee families and the local community, according to a new study.

Since early 2010 about 230 Karen refugees from Burma have been resettled at Nhill, a relatively isolated agricultural town, in north-western Victoria, initially to take up jobs at local poultry producer Luv-a-Duck.

A study into the economic and social impact of the resettlement, carried out migrant and refugee settlement agency AMES Australia and consultant economist Dr Ian Pringle, has found the program produced significant economic and social benefits.

Over the decade 156 full time jobs were created, representing a ten per cent increase in total employment across the district, and $105 million was added to the Gross Regional Product.

The study, titled ‘Settling Sustainably: Ten years of refugee settlement at Nhill, in western Victoria’, found that like many other regional towns Nhill faced a declining working-age population and the resultant loss of services and amenities as well as the flow-on implications for the economic and social prosperity of the town.

It found that a declining population in the town and a very low unemployment rate were key factors in the resettlement and it identified a range of factors critical to the success of the settlement program, including: a welcoming community; real-time employment; appropriate housing; family support; healthcare; and, access to education and training.  

“The data collected shows the settlement of the Karen has had significant economic impact on Nhill and its surrounds,” the report says.

“Over the decade since the Karen were settled in the town, 156 Karen have gained employment in the town and it surrounds. This equates to 156 full time equivalent (FTE) positions spread among 21 employers representing almost 10 per cent of total employment across Nhill and its surrounds,” it says.

“Taking into account increased numbers of employed people in the town and its surrounds and the increase in household expenditure, the boost to Gross Regional Product (GRP) is estimated at $92.5 million.

“Twenty seven Karen families have purchased homes at Nhill where the median house price is $155,500. Twenty-one Karen families are renting homes. The average rental cost in the town is $220 per week.

“As Nhill has been able to keep its health and education institutions open, partly due to the presence of the Karen as employees, patients and students; the value of housing stock and commercial properties in Nhill is estimated to have increased by around $13 million.

“This gives an overall contribution to GRP of the resettlement of the Karen at Nhill of $105.5 million,” the report says.  

The report found there had also been significant positive social impacts stemming from the settlement program for both the settling families and the host community.

Consultant economist Dr Ian Pringle said the presence of the Karen at Nhill had acted as and economic impetus.

“The presence of the Karen at Nhill has had a sustained positive impact on employment with the increased population generating more jobs in service industries. The majority of the Karen in Nhill were settled in family groups, adding a total of 71 children to an ageing population,” Dr Pringle said.

“As they reach adulthood, these children will add to the pool of labour available in the region,” he said.  

AMES Australia CEO Cath Scarth said lessons learned from the Nhill resettlement could point the way forward for better outcomes for both refugee settlement and regional development.

“We at AMES Australia hope that this research report and all of what we’ve heard today will inform in some way policy and practice in the settlement of refugees and, for that matter migrants; and, that the lessons we’ve learned from this experience will be shared widely to improve outcomes both in the fields of refugee settlement and regional development,” Ms Scarth said.