Identity and belonging: refugee youth and their parents’ perception of being Australian

Tahereh Ziaian, Teresa Puvimanasinghe, Emily Miller, Helena De Anstiss, Adrian Esterman, Maureen Dollard

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

7 Citations (Scopus)


People from refugee backgrounds can experience identity issues living between two cultures. Identity development for adolescents and youth, is further complicated by simultaneously having to navigate between childhood and adulthood, and expectations of parents, ethnic community, and host society. Objective: This study with refugee-background youth and adults, explored participants’ perceptions of being Australian and their sense of belonging, after migrating to Australia. Method: Study sample included a multiethnic sample of 79 participants: 46 refugee background youth, 15-26 years and 33 parents or significant family members residing in South Australia. Participants had migrated to Australia from the Middle East, South Asia, or Africa, between 1 and 15 years ago. We used a semi-structured interview protocol and data-based thematic analysis to collect and analyse individual interviews. Results: We identified the themes of acceptance, ambivalence, confusion, and rejection of an Australian identity in both youth and parent interviews, although youth interviews were more eloquent and nuanced. While most participants accepted an Australian identity and considered Australia their “home” for reasons of safety, opportunities and support available to them, others opted for a dual identity combining elements from Australia and heritage country. A few participants rejected an Australian identity but still considered Australia  “home”. KEY POINTS What is known about this topic: Refugee-background people generally do not settle in the same way as other migrants due to pre-migration trauma and stressors associated with the resettlement process. The sociocultural and psychological challenges of negotiating acculturation are another important factors impacting on settlement outcomes for refugee-background migrants. Acculturation entails a degree of identity uncertainty, conflict and the need for identity reconstruction. What is new about the topic: Identity development and reconstruction presented on a continuum from acceptance of an Australian identity including a dual identity, ambivalence and confusion, to rejection of an Australian identity. The vast majority of refugee-background youth and parents considered themselves “Australian” and that Australia was their “home”. The perceptions of racism and discrimination affected participants’ identity development and reconstruction after resettlement although their resettlement outcomes appear to be minimally impacted.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)123-136
Number of pages14
JournalAustralian Psychologist
Issue number2
Publication statusPublished - 2021
Externally publishedYes


  • Acculturation
  • family
  • identity
  • refugee
  • resettlement
  • youth


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