Sydney harbour

New arrivals welcomed through Refugee Language Program

3 May 2022

University community supports recently arrived refugees

Volunteer teachers and tutors are working with recently arrived refugees to build English language skills and settle into Australia through the University of Sydney's Refugee Language Program.

To date, the University of Sydney’s Refugee Language Program has provided hundreds of people from refugee and asylum-seeker backgrounds with the opportunity to develop their English language skills and build social networks in the community.  

A free program which depends on the generosity of donors and volunteers, it aims to break down social barriers by introducing refugees to Australian ideas and customs, and providing reading materials, social activities, and mentoring.  

Most recently, the Program has enrolled a group of students airlifted from Afghanistan in late 2021.

Of this group, four judges have been linked with staff members from the University of Sydney Law School for individual tutoring to help them understand the Australian legal system and future study paths they will need to undertake to practise in Australia.

Tutors have also been allocated to a family that includes three sisters, one of whom was a general practitioner, one a gynaecologist and one an administrative assistant in their home country.

"All of these young women now have an individual tutor who will help them to build their confidence in English and adjust to a new life in Australia," said Refugee Language Program Coordinator Lesley Carnus from the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences.

Volunteer and students in a cafe

The Program helps newly arrived students build their social networks

Students have taken part in the program from more than 60 different countries, including Sudan, Iraq, Syria, Iran, China, and Sri Lanka. With the federal government recently announcing temporary humanitarian visas for Ukrainians displaced by the Russian invasion, the Refugee Language Program could soon be welcoming more students.

"The program provides opportunities that just aren’t available elsewhere to refugees, who may be on temporary visas or even on community detention visas, unable to study or work," said Ms Carnus.

The Program’s volunteer base of teachers and tutors has included University staff, students, and alumni, and has largely been funded through the generosity of donors.

However, during the pandemic funding opportunities have been limited and the program now needs to attract more financial support from donors or partners to continue operating beyond 2022.

"In 2022 we hope to find new sources of funding to continue the incredibly important work of supporting people with few rights and contributing to the University’s efforts to make lives better. The program has already helped hundreds of refugees establish a new life in Australia and we hope to continue supporting many more," said Ms Carnus.

Those looking to support the program can do so in several ways, including:

  • Volunteering to provide individual tutoring to students,
  • Donating second-hand or refurbished laptops for student use, or
  • Making a donation through the program’s fundraising page.

Visit the Refugee Language Program page for more information, or contact program coordinator Lesley Carnus at

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