Sending refugees bush could create mental health issues

AN academic, who has spent the past three years researching migrants and refugees in regional Victoria, believes a Queensland plan to send new arrivals outside the south-east corner raises ethical issues and could result in mental health issues.

Martina Boese, an RMIT University research fellow, said the plan, mooted as a way to stop overcrowding around Brisbane and to grow regional areas such as Central Queensland, had potential but she had doubts it would succeed without serious legwork.

She was involved in charting the experiences of 80 recent entrants - from skilled and family migrants to refugees and other humanitarian arrivals - and found many were happy to move to regional areas, especially if they heard about entry level jobs.

But Ms Boese said many found they did not fit into the communities, locals did not accept their different living styles and their visibility, such as skin colour, made them feel isolated and created belonging issues.

She said there would need to be heavy leadership from key community members and education about other cultures before the Queensland proposal was implemented.

"People tell us about discrimination, exclusion and standing out," she said.

Ms Boese said there was not so much a problem in attracting migrants and refugees to regional areas as retaining them.

She said setting a timeframe, such as the five years touted in Queensland, to ensure people stayed in a regional areas was not practical.

Ms Boese said people would not stay if they were badly paid, had poor conditions or there were not great educational opportunities for their children.

"The same reasons regional Australians leave those locations are true for migrants and refugees too," she said.

"To what extent can you force people to stay in a location that's unsatisfactory to them? That's an ethical issue.

"Does the five years come with guarantee of work? If so, would people be expected to stay if employment doesn't work out?

"It's not realistic to ask an employer to commit to five years and it could create dependency issues.

"It really can work and many people are quite satisfied by the move but I don't think it's something that can be enforced."

Local Government Minister David Crisafulii, who lauded the idea emanating from last year's Queensland Plan summits, said earlier this week that the proposal would only work with infrastructure in place first and jobs available.

He said the other "nuts and bolts", such as how long people would have to stay as a condition of their residency, were yet to be worked out in consultation with the Federal Government.

Ms Boese said, having completed the study, the idea of regional and rural settlement had "the potential to be successful".

"It depends on considered policy on all three government levels, local, state and federal as well as the inclusion of local stakeholders such as employers," she said.

"They are key figures in this regional settlement picture."

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