Refugees reversing population decline in Regional Australia
Since early 2010, the small town of Nhill in north western Victoria has successfully settled approximately 160 Karen refugees.
Attracting new migrants to the area was an opportunity to reverse recent trends of population decline and to support the expansion of Luv-a-Duck, the largest local commercial business.
It was Luv-a-Duck management that first identified Karen refugees as potential new residents for Nhill.
Working in collaboration with AMES Australia, small groups of Karen refugees moved from Melbourne to Nhill in 2010. The positive experiences of these families inspired others and by the following year there were more than 70 Karen refugees (including families and children) in the community.
The increased population has enabled the creation and filling of additional jobs across a number of broader local businesses and services.
Between 2009 and 2014, a total of 70.5 Full Time Equivalent positions have been added to the regional economy. The settlement of the Karen refugees in Nhill has been arguably the largest contributing factor to this growth.
The contribution of Karen refugees goes well beyond job creation. They have helped redress population decline in the town, revitalised local services and helped to re-energise the community. In the words of the Hindmarsh Shire Council CEO:
“The social impact of the Karen settlement is extraordinary. Nhill, a very conservative community, has embraced and opened their minds and hearts to the Karen. This has made Nhill a better place to live.”
The local community plays a vital and ongoing role in the successful settlement of Karen refugees.
Local champions were identified to work with both communities to help with the adjustment. Their role included working with local service providers to ensure they were ready to manage the increase in population and vouching for the capabilities of new entrants to help them find work. These local champions were also the ‘go-to people’ for new migrants that needed advice or assistance with adjusting to their new lives.
Nhill also helped refugees access housing, English classes and social activities to ensure the new entrants did not feel isolated.
Nhill’s experience is evidence that small regional communities with genuine opportunities for growth can attract and retain new people. There are a number of towns right across Australia that, like Nhill, have specifically target international migrants to grow their population and many have seen great outcomes.
For communities that are currently working to increase their population, a strategic approach that targets international migrants could be the solution they need.
Read the AMES Small Towns Big Returns report to learn more about the Karen resettlement experience in Nhill.
The AMES Small Towns Big Returns example is just one of the many initiatives uncovered as part of the Make the Move campaign to highlight examples of locally-led innovation in regional Australia. Is your community taking a unique approach to promoting its best attributes or addressing a local issue? Contact us and share your story.
Photo credit: This image was supplied by Travel Victoria