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Refugee resettlement gives regional community $40m boost – study

23 April 20155 comments

A small town in western Victoria could be pointing the  way forward for both regional development and resettling refugees after a new study revealed the benefits of embedding refugee communities in regional Australia.

The program to resettle refugees in the town of Nhill town has resulted in positive outcomes for the refugee families and added more almost 100 jobs and more than $40 million to the local economy, according to the ground-breaking economic impact study.

Since early 2010 about 170 Karen refugees from Burma have been resettled at Nhill, a relatively isolated agricultural town, in north-western Victoria, initially to take up jobs at a local poultry producer.

The study into the economic and social impact of the resettlement, carried out pro-bono by Deloitte Access Economics and by settlement agency AMES Australia, has found the program produced significant economic and social benefits.

Over five years 70.5 full time jobs were created, representing a three per cent increase in total employment across the district, and $41.5 million was added to the Gross Regional Product.

Since the report was completed, another 27 jobs have been created in and around Nhill and there are now 35 Karen children in local schools.

The study, titled Small towns Big returns – Economic and social impact of the Karen resettlement in Nhill, found that like many other regional towns Nhill faced a declining working-age population and the resultant loss of services and amenities and 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.

“In particular there was a need for labour to support expansion of Luv-a-Duck, the largest local business, and driven by a combination of economic and humanitarian motivations, Luv-a-Duck management identified the Karen as potential employees,” the report said.

“Through a staged recruitment and resettlement process, the Karen community now comprises approximately 10 per cent of the Nhill population, including significant numbers of working age adults and families with young children. Furthermore, labour force participation linked to this population increase is high.

“Fifty-four Karen are directly employed in Luv-a-Duck, and seven employed in businesses that supply Luv-a-Duck. Beyond this, the increased population has enabled the creation and filling of additional jobs across a number of broader community businesses and services,” the report said.

The study also identified significant social outcomes stemming from the resettlement program, including: the arrest of population decline; revitalised local services and increased government funding; and, an increase in social capital across both communities.

It found the necessary factors in the success of the Karen resettlement included: the availability of employment and accommodation; strong leadership in the host community; a welcoming host community; support for the new families; management of the degree and complexity of ‘cultural adjustment’ on both sides; and, settlers prepared to adapt to a new environment.

Deloitte Access Economics Director Matthew Wright said the resettlement of the Karen had had specific and measurable economic impacts on Nhill and the surrounding area.

“We saw an increase in the supply of labour and the further indirect effect of increasing demand for labour to meet the needs of the growing Karen population,” said Mr White, lead author of the study.

Hindmarsh Shire CEO Tony Doyle said Nhill had been enriched economically and culturally by the presence of the Karen.

“The social impact of the Karen settlement is extraordinary. Nhill, a small rural community, has embraced and opened its hearts and minds to the Karen. The Karen settlement in Nhill has not only provided significant economic stimulus, it has enriched the community through exposure to another culture and has made Nhill a better place to live,” Mr Doyle said.

Nhill resident Kawdoh Htoo was one of the first refugees to settle in the town. He says he found living in Nhill “very different” at first.

“But looking back, it was a good experience coming to live here (Nhill). Melbourne was very expensive and here we had work,” said Mr Htoo, who works on local duck farms.

“I miss my home. I miss the jungle and rivers. But life is good here. I like living in Nhill and it’s a good place for my family,” said the father of three.

AMES 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 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.

Federal Assistant Employment Minister Luke Hartsuyker said the result at Nhill was a great example of innovative partnerships.

“It is great to see organisations like Luv-a-Duck thinking laterally to seize business opportunities and partnering with broker organisations like AMES to make them happen,” he said.

“The Karen themselves are also a great example of a people willing to seize opportunities – to move and to take on new challenges – to secure economic opportunities for themselves and their families,” Minister Hartsuyker said.

Read the full Research Report to find out more.

Laurie Nowell
AMES Senior Journalist