A local labour shortage has been addressed through the successful resettlement of Karen refugees from a Melbourne metropolitan area are to a small rural community in the Wimmera. The resettlement was driven by local leaders in the community, working with Luv A Duck, a key business in Nhill. Addressing the labour shortage through relocation of refugees has provided business confidence resulting in a $20 million expansion of the business. There are currently 200 Karen people living in Nhill, with 80 working at Luv A Duck, 20 employed in other businesses and 40 students at local schools.

The challenges include access to migrant education and health services, preparing local and regional service providers to understand cultural issues, shortage of appropriate housing.

The only migrant specific service in the region is Wimmera Development Association, a regional development body supporting the five municipalities, funded for a part time settlement officer. Support, information and awareness raising within the regional network of service providers has been a priority, balanced with case work to support individuals and families.

What you do

Resettlement has been successfully based on employment. Support for the families to become part of the community has been critical.

Initiatives include a migrant playgroup for isolated families (a mechanism to provide information to the migrants, and socialise them within the broader community), a mentor program (assisting with language and day-to-day issues), homework club and youth leadership program (to support young migrant to progress), community enterprise (traditional sewing and design for migrants), art and cultural awareness projects, conversation classes and targeted language programs.

Key local and regional networking of service providers has utilized expertise from national programs, humanitarian organisations, government agencies and NGO to build capacity in their organisations.

How you do it

Hindmarsh Shire Council – key driver and strategic authority developed Karen Community Plan to address issues and provide certainty in incorporating migrant issues into corporate planning.

Wimmera Development Association – Funded through the Australian Government to provide regional settlement services and responsible for regional coordination.

Nhill Community Resource Centre – local learning centre.

Various health and education networks.

Resources dedicated to the initiative

Financial sources

Overall budget: $200,000 per annum est.

Human resources dedicated to the initiative

Full Time Equivalent : 1.5


Number of refugees reached by the initiative: 200 of 500 refugees

A recent economic and social evaluation by Deloitte Access Economics and AMES (http://www.ames.net.au/files/file/Research/19933%20AMES%20Nhill%20Report%20LR.pdf) states that:

“Through a staged recruitment and resettlement process, the Karen community now comprises approximately 10% of the Nhill population, including significant numbers of working age adults and families with young children. Furthermore, labour force participation linked to this population increase is high.

54 Karen are directly employed in a large duck meat grower and processor company and seven in its associated businesses. Beyond this, the increased population has enabled the creation and filling of additional jobs across a number of broader community businesses and services.

A total of 70.5 Full Time Equivalent (FTE) positions have been added to the regional economy over the five year period of analysis, representing approximately 3% of total employment across Hindmarsh. The economic impact of this increased labour supply, in terms of Gross Regional Product – as modelled by Deloitte Access Economics, is estimated to be $41.5 million in net present value terms.

The wider social impacts of the resettlement of the Karen in Nhill provide the story behind the numbers. In short the Karen resettlement in Nhill has helped to:

  • redress population decline for the township
  • revitalise local services and attract increased government funding
  • increase social capital across both communities”

Launched in 2014 by Hindmarsh Shire Council, the Karen Community Plan was developed in consultation with the local Nhill community. It provides the strategic framework for the whole community, service organisations and agencies. http://wda.org.au/settlement-program

Critical success factors

The successful resettlement of the Karen community in Nhill is based on two factors

  1. Employment – migrants are attracted to the rural setting and employment opportunities.
  2. Welcoming community – evidenced by the local and regional support mechanisms put in place

Biggest obstacles

  • Karen community members in Nhill have generally been settled in Australia for some years and may not be eligible for funding support from government.
  • Education and health services have difficulty responding to migrant needs due to funding restrictions
  • Housing options are limited in rural communities, with market failure in attracting investment for appropriate housing