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IV Resettlement in a Third Country: In Transit to Various Foreign Lands

Finding Better Ways to Support Resettled Refugee Families: Dealing with Intergenerational Conflict

Ibolya (Ibi) Losoncz


Forced migration brings with it complex challenges for families, parents, and children. Under news headlines of international tensions, sociopolitical conflicts, war, and large-scale refugee flows, lie the fine details of individual lives. An important challenge for resettled families is adapting to living transnationally and reconfiguring their family relationships. These experiences can differ considerably within families. The resettlement and acculturation experiences of refugee children and youth are significantly different from those of their parents. Yet, they cannot be studied in isolation from each other. The realities of resettlement for children are nested within the ecology of their families and as such are related to, and impacted by, the acculturation experiences of parents and the functioning of their family unit. At the broader level, their experiences

I. Losoncz (*)

The School of Regulation and Global Governance (RegNet), Australian National University (ANU), Canberra, ACT, Australia

© The Author(s) 2016

M.O. Ensor, E.M. Gozdziak (eds.), Children and Forced Migration, DOI 10.1007/978-3-319-40691-6_12

are also influenced by exosystem factors, such as community and institutional structures, and macrosystem factors such as the cultural beliefs and legal systems of their resettlement country (Bronfenbrenner 1979).

In the context of family and community functioning, this chapter considers the experiences of forced migrant children and youth following their resettlement in Australia. A particular focus is the relationship between differential acculturation and intergenerational conflict and violence within families, and subsequent government intervention. The chapter prob- lematizes current government intervention in refugee family spaces and proposes procedural reforms to build sustainable support around resettled refugee youth. Based on multisited ethnography with Australian South Sudanese youth (over 18 years old), adults, and the workers supporting them, the chapter connects the microlevel narratives with Australian institutional settings. It examines the interaction between cultural, legal, and structural factors and their impact on the integration process and outcome for South Sudanese youth and their families and community.

Families are vital to the livelihood of refugee children because they provide safety and support. Families also give form and meaning to the lives of parents, children, and the broader community, and a connection to their ancestors and homeland. At the same time, families also impose demands on their members, and family conflict and violence is a critical issue among South Sudanese families settled in Australia (Migrant Information Centre 2008; Milner and Khawaja 2010; Pittaway and Muli 2009). One of the main sources of conflict is the more rapid acculturation of children and youth relative to their parents, which impacts family power dynamics and can be a threat to parental authority. This can be intensified by the structural and legal mechanisms of the resettlement countries that, compared to their country of origin, tend to give more weight to the rights of the individual, including children within their families. This orientation is reflected in the policies and practices of care and protection authorities and other social institutions. Government and social institutions have an important role in and responsibility for supporting resettled families to avoid serious distress and violence during this phase of a difficult transition. Nonetheless, these interventions need to be responsive to the needs and unique circumstances of refugee families.

The negative effect of highly bureaucratised child protection institutions on children and their families in the general population already has been documented (V. Braithwaite et al. 2009). Where this chapter contributes is by studying the effect of inappropriate and rigid actions from authorities on refugee children. Using the case of recently settled South Sudanese families in Australia, the chapter demonstrate how intervention from authorities, including in some cases the removal of children and youth from their families, has left a critical vacuum in the mentoring of South Sudanese youth in adjusting to their social environment. Without alternative support and mechanisms to mentor them in their resettlement challenges, and assistance in negotiating new forms of family relationships, youths were at risk of being left unsupported. At the same time, their parents and the South Sudanese community at large felt persecuted and stigmatised by Australian authorities for their customary parenting practices and, consequently, felt threatened and distrustful of Australian institutions. At a broader level, the chapter explores how transitions within settling families take place in the context of cultural, economic, social, and legal structures, which can support or constrain their efforts to reconstruct their lives.

The balance of this chapter is made up of four main sections. First, Section 2 discusses the demographic characteristics and cultural position of South Sudanese Australian families. Section 3 provides a brief description of the research methodology of the study. The main findings are presented in Section 4 under the three broad issues of differential acculturation within resettled refugee families; the challenges of parenting in a new cultural, structural, and legal environment; and providing support to children and youth in refugee families. The concluding section discusses alternative strategies from government and social institutions to better support refugee children and youth navigating their developmental transition in the context of resettlement.

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