PEOPLE from refugee backgrounds are increasingly moving to small regional towns across Australia.

Yet, there is often an assumption that regional towns are dominated by xenophobic and unwelcoming attitudes.

Dr Gemma Sou, a Vice Chancellor Fellow at RMIT University, said that was only one part of a much bigger story in regional areas.

“The Bass Coast is steadily seeing people from refugee backgrounds come to live in the area, and local community members support refugees in many ways and provide local knowledge that government agencies may not have,” Dr Sou said.

“Local community members can be drivers of communal spirit and social inclusion.”

Having only arrived five weeks ago, Dr Sou explained the Bass Coast’s welcome culture is already apparent.

“There are many community-based activities that aim to improve the liveability of the Bass Coast for people from refugee backgrounds.

“These include a women’s multicultural group refugee sponsorship groups; social events and English classes among many other initiatives.”

Dr Sou explained the more we know about the local ‘welcome culture’, the better we can understand and improve the liveability of the Bass Coast for people from refugee backgrounds.

Dr Sou aims to use the research to support and positively advocate for people from refugee backgrounds, the Bass Coast community, and regional towns more broadly.

She will produce a community-led photo exhibition, launch event and a comic to be used by teachers in the Bass Coast (and across Australia) to educate students about the experiences of people from refugee backgrounds who live in regional towns; the power of welcome culture; and the character of multiculturalism and solidarity in the Bass Coast.

“People from refugee backgrounds are consistently subject to discriminatory media coverage and I want to challenge these stereotypes by creating ethical and nuanced public stories that can shape the perceptions of students and the public,” Dr Sou said.

She has extensive experience translating her research in creative ways, including an award-winning comic about disaster recovery in Puerto Rico, which proved there is huge international appetite for comics to be used in classrooms.

Dr Sou is currently seeking a financial grant to support this project and if you would like to support and partner on this project, please contact her directly. If you would like more information or to take part in the research, please email Dr Sou directly at gemma.sou@rmit.edu.au.