Queensland is a new home for many people who have escaped political, religious, social, cultural or even environmental difficulties in their own countries. Often people with refugee backgrounds have fled traumatic events such as war, famine, torture and other atrocities unimaginable to most Queenslanders. Families are often torn apart in these extremely dangerous situations.

After arriving in Queensland, many refugees still continue to face difficulties. They can face the immediate problem of communicating in a new language, establishing new social and family networks and finding work. If separated from family and their cultural base, they may experience further discrimination, and they have little support and very few resources.


Refugees make up about 1,200 new Queensland residents each year. The majority are educated professionals. These migrants come from a variety of ethnic groups, and contribute to the strong cultural and linguistic diversity of the state. In some circumstances people with refugee backgrounds are able return to their countries of origin if peace and order are restored there. They are then known as ‘returnees’.

‘Climate Refugees’

Recently, the term ‘climate refugee’ has emerged in reference to Pacific Islanders. It is thought that people might be forced to leave their homelands if rising sea levels threaten to permanently flood their islands. However, some Pacific Islanders reject this term as a misnomer. They feel the term ‘refugee’ does not apply to them because they:

  • can maintain intact social and political systems
  • are not persecuted in their homelands
  • can survive environmental adversity more readily than human generated trauma
  • can plan and resource their migratory journeys

Refugee Material Culture

The nature of refugee migration means that people are seldom able to take their possessions with them. The few – if any – materials they bring, and the ones they first acquire in their new homes can be highly significant and valuable. The powerful stories these objects tell are an important part of Queensland history.

Queensland Museum's Find out about... is proudly supported by the Thyne Reid Foundation and the Tim Fairfax Family Foundation.