Tibetan ladies practice shaking hands at an AUSCO training in Dharamsala, India. Photo: International Organization for Migration (IOM)

Australian Culture in Five Days? No Worries…

Kuala Lumpur - For most refugees and migrants arriving on humanitarian visas, the thrill of resettlement in a new country is usually mixed with trepidation. How will they cope with a new language, a strange culture and life outside a close-knit community or refugee camp where they may have spent most of their lives?


For 41 IOM staff meeting in Kuala Lumpur this week (9-11 August) for the 2017 Australian Cultural Orientation (AUSCO) Training of Trainers (ToT) workshop, providing answers and reassurance is a daily challenge.


AUSCO, which has been delivered by IOM trainers since 2003 and is funded by Australia’s Department of Social Services, offers a 5-day cultural orientation program for refugees and migrants in Africa, the Middle East and North Africa, Southeast Asia, South Asia and Latin America.


“To date, the program has assisted close to 85,000 participants globally,” says IOM Global Coordinator for AUSCO Constanze Voelkel-Hutchison. “The successful delivery of AUSCO is a credit to the subject matter expertise and professionalism of its staff and the positive working relationship between 17 AUSCO missions, the Global Office and the donor. The ToT presents an opportunity to further expand the knowledge base of all AUSCO trainers and to share experiences from the regions in a new format that allows for in-depth review and advanced global networking and service delivery.”


“AUSCO is the first step in a cultural orientation journey that continues with an onshore settlement program that starts after our clients arrive in their new home. We provide them with practical advice and information on the departure and resettlement processes. At the most basic level, this includes how to pack a suitcase and what to expect upon arrival in Australia. But we also provide guidance on the many aspects of their settlement, including employment, education and health. Above all, we try to empower participants to become self-sufficient,” she notes.


In order to provide a continuum, AUSCO and onshore program counterparts also hold joint workshops to exchange ideas and best practices in order to make the transition as seamless as possible. There is also an exchange program between AUSCO trainers and Australian case workers.


IOM Thailand Chief of Mission Dana Graber, who took part in a recent AUSCO training during a visit to Thailand by Australian Assistant Minister for Social Services and Multicultural Affairs Zed Seselja, sees cultural orientation as an essential part of the resettlement process.


“In 2016 Australia accepted over 1,300 Myanmar refugees from often remote Thai border camps. Many of them had never even seen a city, let alone travelled by air. This training was an essential part of helping them to adjust to their new lives,” she says.


IOM Migrant Training and Integration Specialist Pindie Stephen, who oversees IOM’s migrant training programs in Geneva, shares that view.  She notes that in 2016 IOM provided pre-departure or post-arrival cultural orientation for some 71,325 migrants in 70 countries worldwide. They included 92 different nationalities. Some 84 percent of them were humanitarian cases including refugees, asylum seekers and beneficiaries of international protection.


For further information, please contact Constanze Voelkel-Hutchison at IOM Thailand. Email: cvoelkel@iom.int