How Refugee-Centric is Cultural Orientation? The Examples of Canada and Australia
The current refugee crisis resulting from wars and civil unrest in many parts of the world has led to the displacement of an unprecedented number of people; 65.6 million of whom 22.5 million are refugees (UNHCR 2017). While the vast majority of asylum seekers flee to neighboring countries, resettlement in a third country is the last and durable option and is only available to a very small number of refugees. It is also one of the most fundamental tools of international protection for refugees.
Resettlement is a life-changing experience with many rewards and challenges for refugees. To help facilitate the integration of different categories of migrants, “pre-departure cultural orientation” programmes are offered by host countries. These programmes have become central to the resettlement process, with governmental and non-governmental Organisations (NGOs) providing a variety of basic practical information and services to help with migrants’ resettlement.
It has been widely recognised that managing the expectations of resettling refugees is one of the most positive outcomes of predeparture cultural orientation services. Setting more realistic expectations means refugees can access important services more efficiently upon arrival, and gain more self-confidence which in turn enables them to develop a greater sense of belonging in their new environment. This paper will focus on Pre-departure Cultural Orientation (CO) programmes for refugees resettled in Canada and Australia; two top resettlement countries in the world. Both countries rely on the extensive experience and expertise of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) to facilitate the resettlement process. Given the often traumatic circumstances of refugees’ lives and the move to a new country, this paper will explore the extent to which the CO is refugee-centric. In particular, does the CO give enough attention and care to their psychological well-being? Finally, how does the CO contribute to highlighting the potential contributions refugees make to the receiving societies?