Home Lands: young people from refugee backgrounds, cultural identity and media

Many young people from refugee backgrounds struggle to develop positive cultural identities in the settlement context. Can connecting them to their peers and communities overseas assist in this challenge? 

The premise of the Home Lands project was that ongoing communication with ‘home’ and the diaspora could provide important sources of support and positive identification for young people from refugee backgrounds. To explore this premise, young people from refugee backgrounds in Melbourne were supported in the production of audiovisual materials for exchange over the Internet with their friends, families and communities overseas in camp and settlement contexts. Participants were made up of two groups of youth from refugee backgrounds (Karen and Hazara). Both groups worked collaboratively in  the production of digital media short films; Karen youth in Melbourne connecting with displaced youth in Thailand and Hazara youth in Melbourne collaborating with peers in Pakistan and Afghanistan. Participant’s shared their appropriation of the city as a place of their own, extending their feeling of belonging beyond suburbs in which they reside, to the metropolis of Melbourne, to their ties to other homelands and family abroad.

The project resulted in a number of significant outcomes; importantly how youth create and navigate their present and future as belonging not only to one nation, but to a rapidly changing and interconnected world and the importance of transnational relationships for refugee youth settlement, with Information Communication Technology (ICT) and digital communication playing a central role in maintaining these relationships. The project has been one of the first to identify key roles that ICTs play in forced migration more broadly and has resulted in important social and cultural contributions. Particularly in rethinking what a multicultural Australia might look and feel like and what developing a sense of belonging in Australia means to youth from refugee backgrounds.

Resulting from the project were a number of public events where the young participants displayed their artistic products. This included the production of two DVDs- Karen Voices: Collected Works 2010-2011 and Bamiyarra: Collected Works 2012-2013, which contain songs, short films and photographic stories produced and exhibited by the young people in the project. The products are accessible both as hard copy, and through internet links to the Project website, Swinburne Library, Policy Online and YouTube. The photography exhibition by the Hazara participants traveled beyond Melbourne to Sydney and the outer suburbs of Melbourne. The project also had numerous high profile public exhibitions of the work produced and an Arts Talk Symposium hosted by partners in 2011. The projected also resulted in a range of scholarly outcomes that are listed below.

The HomeLands project was funded by an Australia Research Council Linkage Grant, led by the Refugee Research Centre- La Trobe University and supported by the City of Melbourne (Arts Participation Program), the Cultural Development Network, the Centre for Multicultural Youth and APC.au


Gifford S.M, Wilding. R, (2013) “Digital Escapes? ICTs, Settlement and Belonging Among Karen Youth in Melbourne, Australia”, Journal on Refugee Studie, p: 26

Rodriguez-Jimenez, A. and Gifford, S.M. (2010) “Finding voice: Learnings and insights from a participatory media project with recently arrived Afghan young me with refugee backgrounds.” Youth Studies Australia 29(2): 33-41

Wilding.R (2009), “Refugee Youth, Social Inclusion and ICTs: Can Good Intentions Go Bad?” Journal of Information, Communication and Ethics in Society, Vol 7, Iss:2/3, pp. 159-175

Wilding. R (2012) “Mediating Culture in Transnational Spaces: An Example of Young People From Refugee Backgrounds”, Continuum p:26

Public forum: March 2011, Constructing home and identity with young people from refugee backgrounds through media and technology. Presented by the Cultural Development Network and the City of Melbourne, supported by Latrobe University Refugee Research Centre, the Centre for Multicultural Youth and APC.AU. Papers and presentations are available here.