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“The best medicine for healing is compassion. Compassion creates a spiritual space for belonging.” 

During the resettlement journey of Rohingya refugees in Australia, we have witnessed both personalised and “by-the-book” approaches to our settlement. It has been evident to us that it is greatly beneficial when personalised support is offered to a community. Without personalising an approach to a particular community – taking time to get to know their needs, to understand different cultural approaches, and to communicate appropriately – you do a great disservice to them. You risk a lot of misunderstanding, chaos, mistrust and re-traumatising a community.

Many people who are refugees believe that it is going to take a generation to find acceptance as part of society. While it is one thing to be accepted by law and to be included socially, there are times when you still may feel a sense of discomfort – like you do not fully belong and are conscious of how you are representing yourself.

As a refugee, you feel very grateful and appreciative of the support you receive to settle in Australia. But you also feel a very strong need to give back, to participate and to contribute. Until you can do that, there is a feeling of a power imbalance and feeling a full sense of belonging is difficult. Until a feeling of belonging is created, healing is difficult. Healing and belonging are intertwined. You can’t have one without the other.

As community leaders, we try to facilitate an openness – an opening up to the culture, to the language, to the Australian way of life. We have to accept that we are no longer Rohingya in a Rohingya village, we are Rohingya in an Australian suburb. This is our way of life now. That cultural transition is a process, and sometimes it is slow and subtle – seemingly insignificant – but it is unfolding. For example, sometimes when our community gathers now, we don’t cook Rohingya food – instead we have a barbecue. As a community leader, we try to support the community with that cultural adaptation and transition.

When we are trying to support communities to integrate, what is important is that we allow people to integrate at their own pace – again with a sense of compassion. We can’t push too hard – that can cause harm. Give people time to change and adapt.”

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