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AMEP Research Centre

Margaret Piper

About Margaret Piper

Margaret Piper is a consultant with over 20 years experience working in the refugee sector. The areas in which she has worked have varied significantly over that time but currently her work primarily centres on research, training and capacity building in the area of refugee settlement and, through the various for a in which she participates, she maintains a keen interest in policy development and program planning.

After beginning her career in teaching, Margaret worked for a number of years for Austcare, a specialist refugee aid agency. Through this work, she acquired an extensive knowledge of world events and the impact they have on the local population. She also learnt about the challenges and complexities of providing protection, support and solutions for people displaced by persecution and conflict.

In July 1991 Margaret became the Executive Director of the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA), a position she held until December 2005. RCOA is the peak refugee agency in Australia and its core roles are research, policy analysis, advocacy and sectoral capacity building. As its Director, Margaret was heavily involved in each of these areas.

Since leaving RCOA Margaret has continued to work closely with many parts of the refugee sector and is a member of many advisory committees.

Abstract

In statistical terms, refugees and other humanitarian entrants are a minority group. They make up less than 10% of the migrant intake and are fewer than 30% of AMEP’s clients. However, when it comes to preparing new entrants for the workforce, the challenges confronting this group are by far the most complex, surpassed only by the importance of finding ways to overcome these challenges. 

The current cohort of humanitarian entrants comes from extraordinarily diverse backgrounds. Some are highly educated and come from urban backgrounds; others are illiterate in their own language and have little or no experience in a 21st Century environment. Despite these differences, all have experienced severe trauma and dislocation, their dreams for the future shattered by events in their homeland and the ordeal of flight and exile.

The refugee experience is characterised by loss: not least loss of dignity, loss of control and loss of trust, so it comes as no surprise that when refugees arrive in Australia, they are both driven to regain that which was lost and at the same time, hampered by their experiences.

Many refugees see employment as the key to rebuilding their lives. They believe it will take away their dependence on handouts and give them status as a working person so are anxious to get a job as soon as possible. But herein lies a dilemma. How can the refugees’ desires to enter the workforce as soon as possible be reconciled against the reality that without language skills and workplace preparation, they are destined to be trapped at the most lowly end of the employment ladder?

This presentation will explore some of the challenges confronting refugees and other humanitarian entrants when they arrive in Australia and reflect on how AMEP and other settlement services can work together assist them to realise their dreams in a dignified and supportive manner.