Red Cross report finds migrants surprisingly resilient to disasters

26 November 2021

A new report by Australian Red Cross has found that – contrary to many perceptions – one of the most resilient groups when disasters strike are often new arrivals to the country.

“Often people see refugees, asylum seekers and migrants as particularly vulnerable at times of a natural disaster,” said report author Antoine Chandonnet, State Recovery Coordinator, Red Cross Emergency Services. “But our research found that many non-English speaking people in Australia display high levels of resilience, often as a result of having overcome the challenges of migration and settlement.”

The report, Emergency Resilience in Culturally and Linguistically Diverse Communities, was launched today by Red Cross State Director Garry Page, with a message from Queensland Minister for Multicultural Affairs Leanne Linard.

“Some 30 per cent of our population born overseas and 7.5 million migrants living here. Australia is defined by its diversity. With disasters becoming more frequent and severe, this has significant implications for disaster management,” Mr Chandonnet said. “Traditionally there has been a strong focus by disaster managers on the vulnerability of culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) communities, leading to findings of a disproportionately high impact on them.”

Ms Linard said that the report findings come as no surprise. “Queensland’s culturally and linguistically diverse communities are tremendously resilient and resourceful. They have often experienced challenges prior to coming to Queensland and overcome many barriers. Effective communication remains key, and there are important lessons that we can take from the report,” she said.

The two-year community engagement and research project found well-developed resilience capacities within CALD communities, with a strong potential for them to enrich disaster management knowledge and practices in wider Australia. The project recently won a Queensland Resilient Award and is in the running for a national award.

“For example we heard many stories that inside evacuation centres, it’s often the migrants and refugees who are most able to adapt quickly to this environment. Their own migration journey and past experiences gave them resilience that others just hadn’t experienced. These strengths are often overlooked due to a lack of trust-based relationships and effective communication channels with these groups.”

The report recommends embedding greater cultural considerations into disaster management, with stronger connections, mutual understanding and trust between CALD communities, disaster managers and the wider community to better address the challenges they face before, during and after disasters.

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