Increasing digital participation of refugees and new migrants

11 Mar 2021 |Written by Liz Jones


Many newly arrived migrants and refugees face substantial barriers to digital inclusion, with evidence pointing to a ‘digital divide’ between newly arrived communities and the rest of Australia. Further, the 2020 Digital Inclusion Index shows that recently-arrived culturally and linguistically diverse (CALD) migrants are more likely to be digitally excluded than the broader CALD migrant community. 

But, why is this community more at risk of digital exclusion, and what does this mean for their participation in everyday Australian life?

Recently we partnered with the Settlement Council of Australia to co-author a new report that digs into this issue in more detail. We  combined published research with on-the-ground insights provided by Migrant Resource Centres and others working with new migrants and refugees to find out more and offer practical recommendations to close the digital divide. 

What we found was that the digital exclusion of many new migrants and refugees was due to multiple factors relating to affordable access to technology and internet connectivity, the lack of digital skills, as well as language barriers. 

The higher levels of digital exclusion of new migrants and refugees significantly impacts their ability to settle into their new home and participate fully in their new communities. People increasingly need digital capability to access employment opportunities and to pursue further education. 

The online shift to digital-only services, information and activities during COVID-19 exacerbated the digital exclusion of newly arrived migrants and refugees, creating a barrier to accessing local news and reliable information, health and government services, and causing increasing social isolation. 

When asked for their key priority issues, approximately one-third of settlement services listed digital inclusion as a key priority in consultations with the Settlement Council in 2020, and digital exclusion was often cited as a key barrier to addressing other priority areas for these services. 

What needs to be done?

With the Settlement Council of Australia, we have recommended several key initiatives, which together will improve both access to affordable digital technology and the ability to make use of it:

  • Digital devices should be provided to Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP) students to support their learning
  • The Basic Household Goods Package, provided as part of the Humanitarian Settlement Program, should be expanded to include digital technologies and data allowance
  • ICT infrastructure, data and connectivity issues in regional areas must be addressed to support digital inclusion
  • Culturally appropriate digital mentoring support should be embedded within settlement services, expanding on the success of the Be Connected Program, as well as the successes of settlement services delivering digital training initiatives. 
  • Resources including factsheets and online learning modules, like those already developed by Good Things Foundation, should be translated in a number of different languages, making digital learning more accessible to those with low English language proficiency.
  • There should be multiple ways for people to learn, whether embedded in an AMEP class, as part of a social activity, through one-on-one support with a digital mentor or completing an online learning course at a time most convenient to them.
  • This in turn will lead to increased economic and social engagement among newly arrived migrant and refugee communities and have wide-reaching benefits.

By addressing the current digital exclusion of so many new migrants and refugees, we believe this will improve their settlement experience and participation in everyday life in Australia. It will enable them to participate fully in their new communities, create new connections, put down new roots and embrace the many opportunities that this great country has to offer. 

We know it will take the commitment of many to close this digital divide. As a starting point, this report with our friends at the Settlement Council of Australia helps us to better understand the problem and recommend some solutions. As a next step, Good Things Foundation Australia has called for more funding support to tackle this issue in our 2021-22 Federal Pre-Budget Submission.

Read our report with the Settlement Council of Australia to gain more insight into the digital divide for new migrants and refugees in Australia.