Young people could be the key to changing negative attitudes to refugees, according to new research.
A recent survey in the United States found 61 percent of young adults and 63 percent of post-graduates were welcoming of refugees and believed government had a responsibility to accept refugees into the country.
Pew Research Centre's survey of U.S adults published last month found younger adults aged 18 to 29 and those with higher levels of educational attainment were more likely to say the U.S. has a responsibility to accept refugees.
Member of Academics for Refugees at Macquarie University Phillipa Bellemore said young people were generally more sympathetic than older people towards refugees and research by Australian scholars supported the findings.
“In my PhD ethnographic fieldwork in Sydney…I have observed racist comments directed towards refugees…such as being abused in the supermarket, people talking in a derogatory way. It is more by older than younger people,” Ms Bellemore said.
She said young people were more accepting of different cultures having always grown up in a multicultural society.
Simon Shahin, 25, a refugee from Syria, said: “Particularly the new generations, who are always keen to learn about and connect with the world around them, have always been so generously welcoming of refugees.”
Mr Shahin fled his home in Damascus and after settling in Sydney in 2015, has been advocating for human rights on high level platforms such as the United Nations.
“I’ve had the opportunity to speak in front of hundreds of young Australians on several occasions where I had the pleasure to hear about countless inspiring stories…from empatheic hearts of those Aussie youth.”
“I was impressed that many of those youth didn’t have much of an encouragement in their families to motivate them for becoming such advocates, and so, it was purely stemming from them,” he said.
Refugee Week begins on Sunday and young Australians are participating in initiatives including the Ration Challenge to help break the stigma surrounding refugees.
The challenge, which has proven popular among young people, requires participants to live off rations similar to those given to Syrian refugees for a week.
Ration Challenge CoFounder Karen McGrath said by taking on the challenge, young Australians were sending a clear message that they are with refugees not against them.
"It gives young people a platform to start a conversation about refugee issues among their family and friends,” she said.
“If the Australian politicians aren’t going to do much to let refugees come to Australia, I might as well do something to help,” Natalie Oong, 20, Ration Challenge participant said.
Since joining the challenge, Miss Oong has raised $203 for Syrian refugees and has noticed other young people are committed to change.
“I have not met a person my age who has agreed with the current Australian refugee policies. Young people are definitely more welcoming of refugees. At any rally, the majority of participants are of a younger demographic,” she said.
The Ration Challenge runs during Refugee Week from June 17 to 24.