What does it mean to be a refugee?

Every year, millions of people are forced to leave their homes, their families, flee their countries and seek refuge abroad. And Australia is one of the countries that welcome the largest numbers of refugees annually.

From June 20-26 this year, Australia celebrated Refugee Week. This time around, the theme was Unity. The theme was chosen to promote togetherness and harmony and remind us that it is diversity, the unique mix of ideas, worldviews and life stories that created the great way of life we have today.

We at The LOTE Agency are committed to the cause and, to mark the occasion, we prepared a dedicated content series, including videos, a webinar, and this article to help educate and raise awareness amongst the general public about such serious topics as migration and refugee settlement.

Before we delve deeper into the subject, we should clarify the key terms which are often confused and misinterpreted.


The different types of migrants

An asylum seeker is a person who is forced to leave their home country because their life is threatened by war, persecution, violence and violation of their human rights. They are asking for protection in another country.

refugee is an asylum seeker who has received refugee status. Refugees may move directly to the host country or wait for resettlement while transiting in a third party country. Not every asylum seeker is given a refugee status, but every refugee starts out as an asylum seeker.

migrant is a person who moves abroad for a variety of reasons, including the pursuit of better economic opportunities, employment, education, higher quality of life, safety, and family. Migration can be voluntary or involuntary, or a combination of both.

family standing

The refugee’s journey

Each refugee’s life story is different, but what is common is the long and perilous journeys, full of hardships, risks, despair and uncertainty.

The departure is most often urgent and unplanned. When people flee so suddenly, they do not have the required documents and financial means to travel abroad legally. They cannot board aeroplanes and embark on a dangerous journey by sea or land, often entrusting their lives to smugglers.

family migrants

People leave everything behind, fleeing without any belongings. During their voyage, they may have minimal access to shelter, water and food.

When they cross borders, the right to resettlement is yet to be obtained and they are placed in refugee camps. These are built as temporary shelters, where people stay until they can either return home safely, settle in the host country or depart to another country.

In the destination country, they must first apply for asylum. Only if the application has been accepted will they officially receive refugee status. However, this is not always possible, and a great number of people end up living in camps for years.

migrants in tents asking for food

Having the application approved does not mean an instant start of a new, better life. Now follows a long process of resettlement and integration. Refugees face many challenges, starting from limited rights in the host country, such as not being allowed to join the workforce and surviving on humanitarian aid alone, to language barriers and racism.

Challenges faced by refugees

What are the challenges that refugees face?

  • Physical and psychological trauma caused by horrific experiences of war, deaths, disasters, loss of home and loved ones. Survivor guilt.
  • Ongoing insecurity, from not having any certainty about one’s future to resolving formalities, such as a visa.
  • Separation from families and lack of communication. Those who fled alone, hoping to reunite with their families later, might be waiting for years, if ever.
  • Financial hardships. Not having a work permit or not being able to obtain a job to sustain one’s family.
  • Having to adjust to new systems, laws, regulations in the host country.
  • Finding affordable accommodation.
  • Language barriers and culture shock. Having to learn the local language and customs from scratch.
  • Racism and discrimination. Not being able to become a fully accepted member of society.
a woman refugee carrying a baby and food

Did you know that nearly half the world’s refugees are children? What is even worse, many are unaccompanied by an adult. This makes them especially vulnerable to human trafficking, child labour or sexual exploitation. In addition to the challenges mentioned above, those who managed to escape as refugees suffer from:

  • Low literacy levels as a result of disrupted education and lack of finances for education.
  • Detriment to upbringing as a result of separation from parents.
  • Issues with self-identity and belonging, since they relocate at a young age.
  • Shifted family roles – without parents, older siblings have to take care of the younger ones and miss out on their own childhood.
a refugee kid

Where do most Australian refugees come from?

Over the past 10 years, Australia has become home to 114,500 refugees, which is 11% of all resettled refugees worldwide. In comparison, 55% went to the USA (575,600), and 20% to Canada (210,600).

Below is a list of refugee and humanitarian visa entrants by top 10 countries of origin in 2018–2019:

country with number of visas granted

Source: Settlement Services International, 2018-2019.

Final words

Historically, Australia has been one of the leading countries in refugee resettlement. Starting from 1945 when World War II displaced half a million Europeans, to the periodic waves of asylum seekers from South East Asia, to those escaping conflict in the Middle East, many nations have gradually created the Australia we have today.

Apart from bringing cultural diversity to society, refugees contribute greatly to Australia in many other aspects including the workforce, entrepreneurship and volunteering.

Most refugee families manage to integrate well into Australian society and generate substantial benefits to the economy. According to The Centre for Policy Development, refugees are more than twice as likely to establish their own businesses than the broader Australian population.

fruit market in australia

With our work at The LOTE Agency, translation services, we aim to encourage and maintain a sense of togetherness and unity across Australian society. To mark Refugee Week, we spoke with people who have made the long journey to Australia as a refugee, and who shared their stories with. Watch the webinar to hear their experiences.

Share This

Related Posts

multicultural communication
Blog, Community, Cultural, Educational

A day in the life of a Research Intern

Manahil is a Research Intern at LOTE, a translation agency in Australia. Between her researching,…