Young refugees bear family burdens amid service gaps

Negotiating with real estate agents, opening up bank accounts and filling out long Centrelink forms are some of the tasks refugee youth, and kids as young as eight-years-old, are doing to help their parents settle into Australia.

A 65-page report, compiled by Western Sydney University and settlement service Host International has found refugee youth end up becoming accidental cultural mediators.

This is due to a noticeable gap in the availability of translating and interpreting across many services refugee families face while seeking independence.

Lead author Kuwthar Aumarah, 25, said she herself had become and still is a 'life broker' for her family acting as the interface between services and her parents.

"Helping our family with bureaucracy and forms, taking them to doctors and translating, we've had to do that while also being pulled and pushed from so many different cultures," she told AAP.

"We're all helping our families and communities in one way or another because there's such a lack of services that it become our burden to bear."

Ms Aumarah, who is of Mandean background arrived as a refugee from Iraq with her family 15-years ago, escaping persecution as a discriminated minority.

Mandeans are a small Aramaic-speaking sect that honour St John the Baptist as an important religious figure, with thousands settling in southwest Sydney in the wake of the US invasion of Iraq 20 years ago.

The report was led by peer refugee researchers who interviewed and conducted focus groups with 65 youths of refugee-background aged between 16-25 online in NSW in 2021 at the height of lockdowns.

Compared to non-refugees, young people who take on the role of life brokers, whether they are happy with it or not, have more stress as families become dependent on their child as a "third parent" in a full-time capacity, the report, released on Friday, said.

That role permanently alters the young person's maturity and organically makes them grow up earlier than most.

"You’re just a child and you're taken to like serious places and you're expected to understand what's going on and then translate that to your parents - there's a bit of pressure," another young refugee said.

Ms Aumarah, who is studying law, said the added pressure of balancing familial responsibilities and adjusting as a young person exacerbates the sense of feeling like an outsider.

"We grow up alongside our friends and peers, but we're not the same," she said.

On top of dealing with intergenerational trauma from escaping conflicts in their homelands, young refugees are also coping with racism towards them and their parents.

"Seeing how your parents...or other Arab or Iraqi people are treated kind of hurts," another young interviewee cited in the report said. 

"I’ve seen some incidents of racism... and it’s difficult to see."

The study found most youth services operate primarily from a western framework that does not adequately recognise the complex family and cultural dynamics at play during resettlement.

“There's such a lack of availability for mental health resources, especially for youth, that not everyone can afford paying $180 or $220 per session to someone that could help them," said another young refugee.

License this article

What is AAPNews?

For the first time, Australian Associated Press is delivering news straight to the consumer.

No ads. No spin. News straight-up.

Not only do you get to enjoy high-quality news delivered straight to your desktop or device, you do so in the knowledge you are supporting media diversity in Australia.

AAP Is Australia’s only independent newswire service, free from political and commercial influence, producing fact-based public interest journalism across a range of topics including politics, courts, sport, finance and entertainment.

What is AAPNews?
The Morning Wire

Wake up to AAPNews’ morning news bulletin delivered straight to your inbox or mobile device, bringing you up to speed with all that has happened overnight at home and abroad, as well as setting you up what the day has in store.

AAPNews Morning Wire
AAPNews Breaking News
Breaking News

Be the first to know when major breaking news happens.

Notifications will be sent to your device whenever a big story breaks, ensuring you are never in the dark when the talking points happen.

Focused Content

Enjoy the best of AAP’s specialised Topics in Focus. AAP has reporters dedicated to bringing you hard news and feature content across a range of specialised topics including Environment, Agriculture, Future Economies, Arts and Refugee Issues.

AAPNews Focussed Content
Subscription Plans

Choose the plan that best fits your needs. AAPNews offers two basic subscriptions, all billed monthly.

Once you sign up, you will have seven days to test out the service before being billed.

AAPNews Full Access Plan
Full Access
  • Enjoy all that AAPNews has to offer
  • Access to breaking news notifications and bulletins
  • Includes access to all AAPNews’ specialised topics
Join Now
AAPNews Student Access Plan
Student Access
  • Gain access via a verified student email account
  • Enjoy all the benefits of the ‘Full Access’ plan at a reduced rate
  • Subscription renews each month
Join Now
AAPNews Annual Access Plan
Annual Access
  • All the benefits of the 'Full Access' subscription at a discounted rate
  • Subscription automatically renews after 12 months
Join Now

AAPNews also offers enterprise deals for businesses so you can provide an AAPNews account for your team, organisation or customers. Click here to contact AAP to sign-up your business today.

Download the app
Download AAPNews on the App StoreDownload AAPNews on the Google Play Store