Building new lives

I had to start my life again from zero. (Scarlet)

The young people who contributed to Youth Lens were forced to flee their homes by conflict or persecution. They shared what helped and hindered them to start afresh and build new lives in Australia. Here we summarise some of the common themes emerging from their photo descriptions.


Young Australians with refugee experiences are diverse. Some speak English well on arrival, others do not. A first step for many young people is to learn English through programs such as the Adult Migrant English Program.

Some have completed secondary education or higher education. Others lack formal qualifications because their education has been disrupted.

We had to leave my home country before I finished high school and I was expecting that when I arrived I would be able to go into high school like everyone else in Australia … My first educational experiences in Australia were not exactly what I dreamt of. It was hard but I had to live with the fact that I would need to create my own pathway. (Isabella)

Even if they were well-educated, their qualifications might not be recognised in Australia. So access to education and training is vital. Young people with refugee experiences, like their peers, need advice and guidance about education and training. They require information and career guidance and support to navigate unfamiliar systems.

I didn’t know English or the systems in this new environment very well. I didn’t have any idea of what to do, what assessment was, [or] how to do the assessment. (Bahar)

Finding a job

Australia’s unemployment rate remains steady at around 5%. The higher rate of youth unemployment at around 11% (October 2018) reflects the challenges facing young people in the labour market. With the rise in part-time jobs, underemployment has grown, and young people are finding it hard to get the hours of work they want or need. At the same time, there is an increased expectation from employers that jobseekers will have formal qualifications. And there is increased competition for available jobs.

Young people who have experienced trauma, are unfamiliar with the local labour market, lack relevant social connections, lack the required English language skills or are ‘visibly different’ due to their skin colour or attire, face particular challenges in seeking work.

I applied for a hospitality job with friends from my English class. They gave a job to all of my friends, but they didn’t call me back. I believe this is because of my hijab. (Meme)

These young people may need tailored assistance with preparing CVs, interview skills, work tasters and introductions to potential employers.

Getting about

For newly arrived young people, getting about can be a challenge. Understanding the public transport system is important but for many young people in outer suburbs, transport is inadequate or unavailable. Learning to drive and gaining a licence can be challenging without access to a car and a suitably licensed driver.

The time between each bus is 40 minutes … I use my bike because I don’t have my licence. I need to wait for a year between getting my L plates and taking my driving test … Before I take my test I need to complete 120 driving hours with someone who has their full licence so I need to pay a lot of money for a driving teacher. (Jack)

Planning a future

Making decisions about the future is hard for everyone. Young people with refugee experiences are often faced with immediate pressures and it can be hard to think long term. Career guidance and assistance is important to help people make wise decisions about their new lives in Australia.

The service [that community organisations] provided focused on understanding my goals, how I can best achieve them. They told me they can help me with anything I need support with, how I can get to university and where to start. (Adam)

Making a contribution

Young people juggle gaining skills and qualifications, developing a career and a desire to make a contribution. Volunteering and participating in sport, local community groups and charities all contribute to a sense of belonging.

I’m now working to help people newly arrived in Australia. This further reinforces my feelings of belonging in this society. (Jack)

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