Minority groups can provide major help in the face of disasters
Joint research project spanning local government, refugee advocacy groups and emergency services engages refugee needs and knowledge.
A project that demonstrated the value of including refugees in local disaster planning, to help them prepare by acknowledging their skills and experience, has been recognised for its contribution to community disaster resilience.
The Resilient Australia Awards is a national program, convened by the Australian Institute for Disaster Resilience (AIDR), to promote and celebrate innovation and best practice disaster response.
The NSW Office of Emergency Management recently announced the award recipients, which included a University of Wollongong-led project called, ‘Resilient Together: Engaging the Knowledge and Capacities of Refugees for a Disaster Resilient Illawarra’.
Resilient Together was a collaboration between local councils, emergency services, and refugee settlement programs.
It was Highly Commended in the Business Award Category, awarded recently by the Hon Troy Grant, Minister for Police and Emergency Services at the awards ceremony at Parliament House in Sydney.
The project set out to solve a critical gap in humanitarian programs, where refugees are not systematically given information about personal safety and home preparedness for a range of local and natural hazards.
Rather than simply create multilingual information packs, interviews with refugees from Africa, Southeast Asia and the Middle East who have lived in the Illawarra for up to 15 years provided understanding of how they learn about natural hazards and what they already do to feel safe and secure.
A crucial part of the research involved local settlement and multicultural services, often the first point of contact for new arrivals.
Through their connection to these communities they can help them understand and prepare for hazards, rather than making it the responsibility of emergency services.
Dr Christine Eriksen, from UOW’s Australian Centre for Culture, Environment, Society and Space (ACCESS), said the partnership across organisations was a powerful way to open up dialogue, listen to marginalised voices, and empower local organisations to work better together on disaster resilience.
“The ‘Resilient Together’ project provided clear recommendations to local partners on ways to improve care and housing arrangements, as well as engagement and partnerships with refugees.
“It has been a real pleasure to establish and continue to assist such a unique and committed team of partners.”
Importantly, the research showed both how to engage these communities and how their past experiences and skills could be harnessed to strengthen disaster resilience.
ACCESS PhD student Shefali Juneja Lakhina said newly arrived refugee entrants can have specific information and support needs to feel safe and secure.
In addition to government and emergency service supports, the project identified that community plays an important role.
From the cultural norms of family caring for those in need, to the role of faith and places of worship, there was a recognition of the tremendous daily support that contributes to people’s experiences of security and well-being.
“My hope is for this project’s recommendations to guide future disaster resilience programs and services so they may be designed and implemented within a more collaborative, accountable, responsive and empowering approach.”
One of the outcomes of the research was a toolkit to help caseworkers in humanitarian settlement and multicultural services, and community outreach staff in local emergency services and city councils.
Wollongong City Council Library and Community Services Manager Jenny Thompson said the project gave the Council insight into the experiences, beliefs and practices that enable refugees to respond with resilience to emergencies and disasters.
“The project has embraced learning at all levels and among all who have participated, from contributing to academic knowledge and research, to the Council and emergency service providers gaining better understanding of the community they serve, and to those from our refugee community who learnt more about their own strengths and the services that are there to support them in times of crisis.”
Sheryl Reddy, Executive Officer at the Illawarra non-profit support group Strategic Community Assistance to Refugee Families (SCARF), said they were able to recommend refugee entrants, originally from Africa, Asia and the Middle East, as research assistants for the project.
“These people provided valuable insight into capabilities and gaps in awareness, emergency messaging and outreach to culturally and linguistically diverse communities from refugee background.
A number of community members have now registered as NSW State Emergency Service (SES) volunteers to become Multicultural Community Liaison Officers, giving them confidence and a sense of pride through using their language and cultural skills to serve the community.
The project was funded under the joint State and Commonwealth Natural Disaster Resilience Program by the New South Wales Office of Emergency Management’s 2017 Community Resilience Innovation Program.
Read more about the toolkit: preventionweb.net/publications/view/57379
Photo shows, left to right: Sherryl Reddy (SCARF), Shefali Juneja Lakhina (UOW), Joshua McLaren (NSW SES), Raquel Aldunate, (Illawarra Multicultural Services), and Christine Eriksen (UOW).