Issues Unpacked

Key refugee issues worldwide
Since there was war, there have been refugees. The 1951 Convention regarding the Status of Refugees defines a refugee as a person who "owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it." (2002 - 2013 UNHCR Regional Office - Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea, and the Pacific.)
The UNHCR also assists "Persons of Concern to UNHCR" including asylum seekers (those who have not yet been recognised as refugees), stateless people, internally displaced people (IDPs) and returnees. According the the Refugee Council of Australia, refugees are defined as those who "are forced to leave their country because they are at risk of, or have experienced, persecution. The concerns of refugees are human rights and safety, not economic advantage. They leave behind their homes, most or all of their belongings, family members and friends. Some are forced to flee with no warning and many have experienced significant trauma or been tortured or otherwise ill-treated. The journey to safety is fraught with hazard and many refugees risk their lives in search of protection. They cannot return unless the situation that forced them to leave improves." Of note here, is that refugees are forced to flee and do not consciously seek economic advantage - this is a fundamental difference between a migrant and a refugee. (see RCA for more info:
Current emergencies
  • More than 13.1 million Syrians have been displaced by the current crisis in their home country*
  • 7 million have fled Syria and are seeking safety and protection*
  • Australia has agreed to take 12,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees*


  • 428,496 refugees have fled from political unrest in Burundi which took a deadly turn in 2015 after the president announced plans to seek a third term. Street protests led to violent clashes, and hundreds of thousands have since fled to nearby countries in search of safety.

DR Congo

  • More than 1.9 million people since January 2017 – chiefly in the Kasai, Tanganyika and Kivu regions have fled fresh waves of unrest in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Tens of thousands more have fled to Angola, Zambia and other neighbouring countries.
  • There are more than 600,000 DRC refugees fleeing this conflict in sub-Saharan Africa.
  • There are 4.25 million internally displaced refugees within DRC.
  • There are over 526,000 refugees from other African countries in the DRC.


  • More than 2.9 million refugees displaced inside Iraq.
  • There are over 1.4 million displaced in temporary settlements.


  • Over 647,000 refugees have fled to Bangladesh since 25 August 2017.

* Sourced from UNHCR, updated Dec 2017 and Jan 2018.

Key refugee issues in Australia
In Australia, refugees face all the problems of settling in to a new country as well as dealing with past trauma. These issues can be compounded by a lack of acceptance by the wider community. However, there are some support organisations assisting refugees now living in Australian communities. For further information, see UNHCR website and the STARRTS website.
Key refugee issues in Sydney
Sydney is home to diverse communities of refugees residing especially Greater Sydney's South-Western and Western regions. A 2004/05 survey found that Sydney resettles 28% (just behind Melbourne at 28.7%) of refugees living in Australia (2013 Currently, Sydney communities welcome refugees from Afghanistan, Burma, Cambodia, Democratic Republic of Congo, Ethiopia, Guinea, Iran, Iraq, Liberia, Nepal, Sierra-Leone, Sri Lanka, Sudan and Syria amongst others. In the past, Sydney suburban communities have assisted refugees from Bosnia, East Timor, Kosovo, Lebanon, Serbia, Vietnam and Uruguay. RCA website states:
"While it is agreed that tangible factors such as income support, housing, employment, education, health care and family reunion are essential, it is the less tangible factors which play a vital role in the settlement process, including:
  • being able to feel safe and secure;
  • restoring a sense of self worth;
  • restoring a sense of dignity;
  • regaining a sense of control over one's life;
  • resolving guilt; and
  • processing grief about the loss of self and country."
According to the same 2004/05 study, children under 18 years make up the largest proportion of refugees living in Australia. Assistance to minors is thus crucial to successful long-term resettlement of refugees and the well-being of refugee communities in general.
Key refugee issues targeted by Treehouse Theatre programs like Tree of Life
Treehouse Theatre initiatives target many specific issues including those listed in the previous section. In addition, Treehouse Theatre programs improve English language proficiency, foster a sense of belonging, restore pride in their cultural heritage and hopes and dreams for the future. Treehouse Theatre's vision, in a nutshell, is twofold: to build resilience amongst refugee participants using drama-therapy and to (re)educate the Sydney community about genuine refugee experiences using verbatim theatre performance. This means that, while the participants are at the heart of every decision and activity, artistic or otherwise, we also strive to ensure that the true stories of our refugee cast are presented factually and clearly. It is so important that the Australian community hear these remarkable stories.
Lesson Plans and Teaching Resources from Refugee Week
Refugee support and advocacy groups
Refugee Council of Australia
Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group
Balmain for Refugees
Refugee resource organisations
United Nations High Commissioner for Refugee
Refugee Advice & Casework services (RACS)
Asylum Seekers Centre
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre