Refugee numbers at a glance: https://www.unhcr.org/en-au/figures-at-a-glance.html
Video of The Little Refugee being read aloud: https://video.link/w/gUpqd
Thousands have arrived in Australia from Ukraine … there are millions all over the world… and some are pretty famous. This is your Squiz Kids Shortcut to refugees—the podcast where we dive into the who, what, when, where, why and how of the big news stories. I’m Amanda Bower.
And I’m Bryce Corbett.
Bryce, for over a year we’ve been following the news in Ukraine, where Russia’s invasion and the terrible war that’s being fought has caused more than EIGHT million Ukrainians to flee their country, making them refugees.
Today, we’ll take you through WHAT a refugee is; WHERE refugees in Australia have come from; and WHO are some refugees that have made a big contribution to life in Australia.
Listen carefully – there’s a Squiz at the end!
Bryce, we have some vocabulary to get through here. This podcast is about refugees … and refugees are different from migrants.
If you talk about someone taking refuge—like, from the rain or a big storm—it means that they’ve gone to a place of shelter, or safety.
Exactly. A refugee is someone who has left their country to seek shelter, or safety. They do that because there’s something about life in their home country that has made it dangerous for them to be there. That makes them different from a migrant, because migrants CHOOSE to leave their home country, and could always return. When I lived in America, I was a migrant – I loved Australia, and once I convinced my American family to join me, I came back home.
Whereas a refugee is given permission to live in another country precisely because they can no longer live in their home country for one reason or another.
And that has to be for a good reason. It’s not like someone from Far North Canada could come to Australia as a refugee because they hate cold weather, and would prefer to live in tropical Far North Queensland. To qualify as a refugee, you have to be reasonably afraid of being persecuted – which means treated badly – if you go back to your home country. That bad treatment could happen because of your religion, or race, or membership of a particular social group… or because of your political opinions.
It’s hard, living in a peaceful place like Australia, to imagine being so scared that you have to leave your own country. How many refugees are there in the world?
I’ve popped a link in your episode notes to a United Nations website that goes into more detail, but here are some basic facts: At the end of 2020 there were 26.4 MILLION refugees worldwide, the highest number ever. And there were another 4.1 million “asylum seekers”, which is the phrase used to describe people who are waiting to find out if they’ll be accepted as refugees.
Let’s have a look at WHERE some of the major refugee groups come from.
Basically, Bryce, if you’re curious about where most refugees come from, you just have to look at where most of the conflict in the world is at any time. The first groups of refugees to come to Australia were about 7,000 people escaping Germany and Austria in the 1930s, as Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party came to power. Most of those refugees were Jewish—the Nazis persecuted, or treated badly, Jewish people simply because of their religion.
In 2020, which is when the UN last released statistics on refugees, the biggest wars and political upheavals were in Syria; Venezuela; Afghanistan; South Sudan; and Myanmar… and more than two thirds of the world’s refugees came from those countries.
Sadly, in 2022, we have to add Ukraine to that list.
Now Amanda, only 14% of the world’s refugees end up living in developed countries like Australia… So where do most of our refugees come from?
Well, that’s changed over time, of course. After World War II, Australia took in people seeking refuge from war-ravaged Europe. In the 1950s, a lot of them came from Eastern Europe, where the USSR, led by Russia, was taking over countries and persecuting people who didn’t agree with their communist policies. People fled Hungary, Czechoslovakia, Poland…
So those people were afraid they’d be discriminated against for their political opinions.
Exactly. Now one thing you might have noticed, Bryce, is that all those early refugees in Australia were coming from Europe. From 1901 until 1973, Australia had something called a “White Australia Policy”. There’s no nice way of saying this – it was racist. Officially known as the “Immigration Restriction Act”, it made it difficult – almost impossible – for non-white people to live in Australia, either as refugees or as migrants.
The policy was taken down in 1973, and racial discrimination of any kind was outlawed in 1975.
Pretty soon after that, we took in 100,000 refugees from Vietnam, who were escaping the Communist government there after the Vietnam War ended.
More recently, Australia has taken in refugees from Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran, Sudan, and Myanmar —people who feel unsafe in their home country because of war, their race, or because they’re being persecuted for their Christian, Muslim, or other religious beliefs.
Bryce, one thing that really shocked and saddened me is that right now, about 40% of all refugees in the world are under the age of 18. It’s hard for me to imagine how scary it must be for kids to have to leave everything behind – their homes, their schools, their friends, maybe even some of their family. But it’s also pretty inspiring what some of those kids who are safely resettled in Australia have gone on to do.
Let’s learn about WHO came to Australia as a refugee and has made a big mark.
Bryce, ever heard of Ahn Do?
Of course! He’s the author of the WeirDo kids book series, he’s an artist, a stand up comedian, he has a TV show… he even came second in Dancing with the Stars!
Well, when he was a kid, he and his family fled Vietnam and came to Australia as refugees. His award-winning book, The Little Refugee, talks about what it was like escaping Vietnam – there are pirates involved! – and then how hard it was at first in Australia, when he spoke no English, and brought lunches to school that the other kids made fun of. I’ve popped a link in your episode notes to someone reading The Little Refugee aloud.
As happy as refugees are to have escaped to safety, it can be really difficult adjusting to a new life.
Absolutely. Tan Le came with her sister and Mum to Australia in 1982, and they had only $16. Seventeen years later, she was Young Australian of the Year – and she’s now a very successful entrepreneur… meaning she’s started her own business. Speaking of entrepreneurs – ever been to a Westfield shopping centre?
It’d be hard to avoid doing that! There are Westfields everywhere!
Well, the Westfield dynasty was co-founded by Frank Lowy, who, you guessed it, was a refugee. He’s Jewish, and came to Australia after surviving World War II. His first job here was in a metal factory… then a deli… then he started his own deli with a partner… and from those humble beginnings, he went on to become a billionaire.
Refugees who’ve become artists, entrepreneurs… and sports stars, too, I think?
Yep, there’s AFL legend Majak Daw, whose family fled the civil war in South Sudan when he was only 9… that was an experience that caused him a lot of pain, and took a lot of time for him to process. And there’s Peter Bol, the Olympian and national record holder for the 800m, also fled South Sudan with his family.
Amazing what people can do once they feel safe and secure.
This is the part of the podcast where you get to test how well you’ve been listening…
1. Which country did Ahn Do’s family escape from? ”
2. Are most of the world’s refugees living in rich or poor countries?
3. More than 2/3 of the world’s refugees come from six countries. Can you name one of them?