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Study finds refugees are good for business in Australian country towns

Iraqi children in a temporary displacement camp, having fled Islamic State. Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images

While immigration minister Peter Dutton is sending video messages to refugees on Nauru telling them to head for Cambodia or face another decade on the island, a study into 170 Burmese refugees who went to live in a Victorian regional town found they’ve added $40 million to the local economy.

The report “Small towns, big returns – Economic and social impact of the Karen resettlement in Nhill” is a textbook study on how transplanting people into regional areas can resuscitate a flagging town.

Produced pro-bono by Deloitte Access Economics and commissioned by settlement agency AMES, the report found that resettling 170 Karen refugees who fled Burma in Nhill, population 2300, and half-way between Adelaide and Melbourne, created 70 jobs over five years and added more than $41.5 million to the local economy.

The refugees began moving there in 2010, initially to take up jobs at local poultry producer Luv-a-Duck in the face of a declining working-age population, low unemployment and shrinking services.

“Through a staged recruitment and resettlement process, the Karen community now comprises approximately 10% of the Nhill population, including significant numbers of working age adults and families with young children,” the report says.

“Fifty-four Karen are directly employed in Luv-a-Duck, and seven employed in businesses that supply Luv-a-Duck. Beyond this, the increased population has enabled the creation and filling of additional jobs across a number of broader community businesses and services.”

The social outcomes included revitalised local services and increased government funding. Key factors for success included the availability of employment and accommodation; strong leadership in the host community; a welcoming host community; support for the new families; management of the degree and complexity of ‘cultural adjustment’ on both sides; and, settlers prepared to adapt to a new environment.

Deloitte Access Economics director Matthew Wright said the resettlement led to a 4% lift in regional production in 2013-14.

The report complements the findings in a 2008 study by Vic Health into the impact of settling refugees in regional areas.

A 2013 review of literature into the economic contribution of refugees in Australia, which looked at several studies over the past 15 years, found that there were two key types of studies: those implicitly seeking to show that refugees do make a contribution, and those examining or model economic impacts quantitatively, concluding that “there is considerable disparity in the findings between (and within) the two categories of work, no model or study indicates that refugees impose a burden over the long term”.

It said comprehensive, long-term statistical data on the economic contribution of refugees and migrants was non-existent.

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