Supporting refugee students

There are more than 8,000 students from refugee backgrounds in NSW public schools. Approximately 1,500 newly arrived refugee students enrol each year.

The number of refugee students enrolling in NSW schools reflects Australia's humanitarian program intake. Over the next few years this number is expected to increase as a result of Australia’s commitment to resettling 12,000 additional refugees from Iraq and Syria.

Students from refugee backgrounds are mainly enrolled in metropolitan schools but there are also significant numbers in schools in Wollongong, Newcastle, Coffs Harbour and Albury.

Refugees in Australia

People seeking Australia’s protection can apply from offshore through Australia's Refugee and Humanitarian Program as refugees or under the Special Humanitarian Program.

People can apply for protection as asylum seekers, if already in Australia, under our obligations as a signatory to the United Nations 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees and its amendment, the United Nations 1967 Protocol. They may have arrived in Australia on a tourist visa, or without valid travel documents.

Some people who have had refugee-like experiences enter Australia as permanent residents through the Family Migration Program. They are not recognised as refugees and are therefore not eligible for the same level of resettlement support.

Additionally, some people may have entered Australia as refugees or asylum seekers in the past and subsequently become Australian citizens.

Find out more about refugees, their journeys and their experiences of resettlement in Australia on the website Roads to Refuge.

Impact of refugee experiences

Refugees are people who have fled their homelands due to persecution, threat or danger in their country of origin, usually as a result of civil unrest or war. They may have experienced trauma, torture, loss of family members, or have been confined in refugee camps or urban areas on their journey to asylum.

Resettlement in Australia, and the difficulties associated with settling into a new community, learning a new language, finding permanent accommodation and stable employment, can be challenging for refugees.

The impact of refugee experiences is significant for  students and families. Refugees generally have greater educational and support needs than other newly arrived students.

They may have:

  • experienced danger, uncertainty and trauma
  • disrupted schooling or little formal education
  • low literacy skills in their first language
  • complex emotional, mental or physical health problems.

Further information about the impact of refugee trauma can be provided by STARTTS, a non-profit organisation that treats survivors of torture and trauma.

A student suffering distress as a result of trauma may exhibit a range of behaviours:

  • difficulties in building friendships and trust
  • separation anxiety
  • lack of organisational skills, resources, confidence or language to access facilities or support
  • distrust of authority - schools as institutions and teachers and administrators as authority
  • disinterest, confusion, poor concentration and memory
  • absenteeism from school for extended periods
  • over-reaction to discipline or threatening behaviour by other students
  • response with fear and anxiety to unfamiliar situations or triggers in the environment such as overhead planes, ambulance sirens or sudden loud noises
  • display of ‘instinctive, survival-type' behaviours such as hiding or running away
  • significant distress during class discussions of topics such as families, warfare, or current events in their country of origin
  • over-compliance with requests for assistance.

Find out more about the impact of refugee experiences (PDF 300KB).

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