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New smartphone app helps refugees settle in Australia

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News Stories, 21 January 2016

Orthopaedic surgeon and Iraqi refugee Dr Munjed Al Muderis displays the New Roots app.

SYDNEY, Australia, Jan 21  Getting settled in a new country and making adjustments for language, culture and way of life is often a challenge  never more so than for refugees who have experienced trauma and psychological distress.

But now a new smartphone app available in Farsi, Arabic, Tamil and English puts information and tools at the fingertips of recently arrived refugees in Australia, helping them navigate their new lives.

The New Roots app  developed by Settlement Services International (SSI) together with Beyond Blue, non-profits working in refugee resettlement and mental health respectively  includes tips for everything from staying fit to eating well and finding a job.

Among other features are tips for emotional well-being and guides to managing finances and contacting emergency services in Australia. The app has been welcomed by resettled refugees, among them Iraqi surgeon Munjed Muderis.

"I know from my own experience that this can be a very stressful and difficult period when settling in a new country," said Muderis, who is now a leading orthopaedic surgeon in Sydney and an ambassador for the app.

"The New Roots app can help with staying healthy through exercise and eating well, as well as connecting with people by joining local community and sports organisations and attending cultural activities," Muderis said in a statement posted on SSI's news blog.

"These things can be overlooked during the initial turbulent period of settling in a new country, but they are essential for reducing stress and embracing the opportunities to make this time a happy, healthy and productive experience," he added.

Among supporters of the app is up-and-coming cricketer Hameed Kherkhah, who fled Afghanistan with his family as a boy. He noted that it would have been a help for his family when they first came to Sydney and struggled with the logistics of day-to-day life, from learning English and renting a house to getting around the city.

"The fact that all the information is there at the push of a button in someone's pocket will really take some of the stress out of settling in Australia," said Kherkhah, who is also an ambassador for the app. "I wish this was around when we arrived, we would have loved it," he added.

The app was funded by donations from the Movember Foundation, an international charity committed to helping men live happier, healthier and longer lives. The application also aims to support the communities into which refugees are settling, as well as people who work in the settlement sector. The other components of the app, which is available on iPhone and Android devices, are online training for caseworkers in settlement services and training for community leaders.

Following a 12-month pilot phase in the Australian state of New South Wales, developers hope the app will be made available in more languages and other project components will be promoted Australia-wide.

"People from refugee backgrounds who are resettling in countries like Australia have typically been through traumatic experiences in the countries they are fleeing from," said Violet Roumeliotis, the CEO of SSI.

"The stress of adapting to a new country and culture and securing the necessities of life can compound on that trauma and negatively affect physical, social and emotional well-being."

By Catherine Stubberfield in Sydney, Australia


UNHCR Regional Office Canberra

The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is an impartial, non-political humanitarian organisation mandated by the United Nations to protect refugees and seek ways to help them restart their lives. UNHCR's Regional Office in Canberra covers Australia, New Zealand, Papua New Guinea and the Pacific, and is focused on three key areas: legal protection, resettlement and public information.