Seeking Refuge: Implications when Integrating Refugee and Asylum Seeker Students into a Mainstream Australian School

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Abstract

This article describes one school’s response to the inclusion and education of refugee and asylum seeker students within a mainstream educational setting. Australian government statistics released on 31 March 2016 stated that there were presently 50 children being held on Nauru, 17 children held in detention on the mainland and 317 children held in community detention on the mainland (ChilOut, 2016). Refugee and asylum seeking students are subject to the impact of war and conflict; the cumulative time spent in detention may severely limit a young person’s access to formal education. Whilst it is understood that children will benefit from access to education, the reality is that “little appears to have been written on asylum seekers” in an educational context (Reakes, 2007, p. 94). This represents a concern when it is acknowledged that “sustaining teachers in culturally and linguistically diverse schools has been a prominent issue for years” (Williams, Edwards, Kuhel, & Lim, 2016, p. 17). This article responds to the limitations of current literature by articulating considerations that would likely assist other schools seeking to establish similar inclusive frameworks. Specifically, the thematic grouping of staff observations seek to articulate the cultural considerations that likely influence the sustainability of an inclusive and liberating approach to integrative school enrolment. This paper draws on the authors’ observations and experiences in schools, the published literature and the observations of the two authors – specifically, drawing on their educational and therapeutic expertise. These observations are then grouped into themes outlined by Akinsulure-Smith and O’Hara (2012) as key reasons for therapeutic referral, namely: employment barriers, medical challenges, language barriers, social services and legal challenges.

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