The refugee crisis tackled by actual refugees: the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre

Few of us could imagine being stuck in a foreign country for 26 years without help or support. Yet this is the reality for many refugees around the world, and the number of humanitarian migrants has reached an historic high.

A refugee community in West Java, Indonesia, took matters into their own hands to address their access to basic services, establishing their own school. The school has 200 students supported by 17 volunteer staff, along with help from UTS staff.

“The way refugee communities organise themselves really challenges public perception that they are helpless, unskilled or dangerous. These communities are made up of capable, determined and creative individuals with an interest in contributing to society,” explains UTS scholar Dr Lucy Fiske.

Thanks to the preparation and help they received at CRLC, refugees were able to secure jobs, homes and get involved in the communities after relocating to their new home.

Dr Fiske became involved with CRLC through her research. She decided to support the school by serving on its board, and spend time understanding staff needs and respond using her network and access to resources.

Regular teacher training sessions are delivered onsite or online. Dr Fiske shares her lecture notes and other resources with teachers interested in taking and delivering tertiary courses.

Dr Fiske has co-authored a paper with one of the school’s founders and spoken at various public events and art exhibitions organised by community members:

“Our first goal is to provide immediate assistance to refugee communities by supporting their education program. But we also want to change public perception among non-academic audiences.

“Many of us don’t realise that global political decisions affect their lives directly. We have recently seen a person being granted entry to the United States, but the offer was suspended almost immediately because of the current administration’s decision to stop refugee intake,” she says.

While this can make the whole team feel frustrated and powerless at times, Dr Fiske affirms that this actually fuels her desire to continue her work.

“It’s challenging work, but our UTS team is driven by the love of people and commitment to justice. We know that changing the hostile environment for refugees is a very problematic task, but we can see that small changes matter in the lives of real people,” says Dr Fiske.

Banner image: children learning in a refugee-run school in West Java. Thumbnail: children posing in dancer costumes for teacher day celebrations. Photos are courtesy of Lucy Fiske.

Case study

The Problem

The time a person will spend as a refugee has risen from an average of nine years in 1990 to a staggering 26 years in 2016—a long wait without access to protection, health services, education, work or citizenship.

The Response

Through her research work in Indonesia, Dr Lucy Fiske has become involved with a refugee-run school in West Java, the Cisarua Refugee Learning Centre (CRLC) who voiced the need for teacher training.

What helped accomplish this?

By teaming up with the UTS School of Education, Dr Fiske found much support, especially from A/Prof Nina Burridge and Dr Damian Maher who travelled to Cisarua to provide professional teacher development on-site in Indonesia as well as remotely.

What has changed as a result?

Refugees who have been resettled to USA, Canada, Australia and New Zealand after attending CRLC have gone into their correct year level at school and make friends due to their English language skills. Their parents report being able to secure employment, feeling confident in negotiating working and living conditions, and feeling better prepared to start their new life.


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Impact Area



UTS Faculty or Unit



Black and white photo of Lucy Fiske

Lucy Fiske, Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow & Senior Lecturer, Social and Political Sciences Program
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