Abstract Positive interaction with neighbours can significantly influence new immigrants’ perception of being welcomed in the host society. This article analyses interview narratives of 47 former refugees from Ethiopia, Burma and Congo about their neighbourhood experiences in diverse and relatively disadvantaged localities within Greater Brisbane, Australia. While most interviewees had positive interactions with their neighbours, a significant minority reported either problematic or no interaction. Most respondents reflected on being restricted by the language barrier and different cultural expectations about neighbourly relations. Having come from places where neighbours may have been the first point of social contact and support and where they often overlap with extended family, our respondents found Australian suburbs to be at odds with such a concept of close neighbourliness. We argue that barriers to positive neighbourly interactions hamper the acquisition of bridging social capital in disadvantaged, ethnically diverse residential locations and, by extension, potentially slow down the English-language learning, acculturation and employment success. Implications for policy are discussed. Introduction This article explores neighbourhood experiences of refugee settlers in Greater Brisbane, the capital of the Australian state of Queensland. The article is based on data collected through interviews with the ‘permanently protected’ refugees, who have therefore formally ceased to be refugees and have become permanent residents, and often also citizens of Australia. Yet, such full formal entitlements do not preclude settlement issues they typically experience in Australia. Their settlement, in terms of employment, residential integration and other indicators of ‘social inclusion’, has been more challenging than settlement of large numbers of other immigrants, such as those arriving on ‘skilled’ or ‘family’ visas (Richardson et al. 2004; DSS 2011). In recognition of this, those who arrive on permanent humanitarian visas receive initial government-funded settlement support consisting of free language classes, short-term on-arrival accommodation, and assistance in navigating housing and labour markets (DSS 2014). Over the past 25 years, Australia’s humanitarian immigration programme has offered permanent protection to about 13,000 people annually. Most of these places have been filled by the ‘off-shore’ component of the programme—the refugees ‘processed’ overseas, usually by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and arriving in Australia on permanent residency visas. A smaller, and progressively shrinking, proportion of humanitarian arrivals has been filled by the ‘on-shore’ arrivals—those who arrived undocumented, usually by boat, and seek asylum in Australia (DIBP 2015). Humanitarian arrivals are ethnically and politically ‘visible’ in Australia, and this visibility is disproportionate with their relatively small numbers within a larger immigration intake. On the one hand, having in most cases arrived from conflict-ridden countries in Asia, Africa and the Middle East, they are perceived as ‘different’ in the context of predominantly ‘white’ Australia. On the other hand, their ‘political visibility’ comes from the contention that they are ‘expensive’ immigrants requiring settlement support and often not ready to contribute economically, thus contradicting the key pragmatic economic principle that underpins Australian immigration policy (Markus et al. 2009). Australia’s current Immigration Minister, Peter Dutton, said in May 2016 that new refugees ‘won’t be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English’ and ‘these people would be taking Australian jobs … and for many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues’ (ABC 2016b). Moreover, Australian politicians from both major parties frame asylum seekers more often as ‘a threat to Australia’s border security than as people in a humanitarian crisis and in need of assistance’ (Bleiker et al. 2013: 413). As a result, most Australians have concerns about humanitarian entrants and there is a degree of public suspicion or even antipathy towards them, including permanent refugee settlers (McKay et al. 2011). Such political atmosphere may contribute to the level of difficulty involved in refugees’ integration into local communities. Due to additional difficulties and needs that people from refugee backgrounds may have, they tend to stay close to their co-ethnics and concentrate residentially, usually in relatively disadvantaged areas of major cities (Colic-Peisker and Tilbury 2008; Cheshire and Zappia 2015). In comparison with the black ghettos of American cities (Wilson 1987; Anderson 2012) and banlieues surrounding major French cities (Body-Gendrot 2010), Australia’s areas of socio-economic disadvantage have not so far been as clearly delineated and notorious (Johnston et al. 2007). Yet, due to generally increasing inequality, casualization of ‘blue-collar’ jobs and polarization of metropolitan housing markets, over the past decades, such areas of disadvantage have become more prominent in the social ecology of Australian cities (Pawson et al. 2012; Cheshire and Zappia 2015). They have also become more distinct in public consciousness and therefore avoided by people who can afford to live elsewhere. Jacks (2016) reported ‘white-flight’ segregation affecting Melbourne state schools11 in gentrified inner city areas where African refugee families concentrate in public-housing high-rise ‘flats’ surrounded by expensive real estate. This emerging pattern of educational segregation stems from the ‘visibility’ of refugee-background students and a general perception that they have to be a liability as students, coupled with an extremely poor image of public housing in Australia as a marginal tenure housing people with ‘complex problems’. The ‘white-flight’ pattern, either residential or educational, may contribute to relative segregation of ‘visible’ newcomers and create a downwards spiral of residential, educational and consequent socio-economic disadvantage affecting certain groups of recent arrivals. For most refugees resettled in Australia, adjusting to a vastly different culture is a challenging process (Colic-Peisker and Tilbury 2003; Hebbani et al. 2012). Interaction with neighbours in an unfamiliar suburban environment represents a significant aspect of this process, affecting their overall settlement (Logan et al. 2002). If the locality where newcomers settle is socio-economically disadvantaged and ethnically diverse, the challenge may be even greater, further exacerbated for those who are ‘visibly different’ and those who have limited English-language proficiency (Korac 2005; Colic-Peisker and Tilbury 2007; Flatau et al. 2014). Within Queensland, most recent refugee arrivals have settled in metropolitan localities within Brisbane, Ipswich and Logan City in the south-east part of the state (DSS 2014; Cheshire and Zappia 2015). This article focuses on refugee settlers’ lived experience of their residential localities and their interaction with neighbours, which have a potential to considerably influence people’s sense of wellbeing and of being welcomed, and also their language learning, acculturation and employment trajectories, through development of bridging social capital, or its absence. In the rest of this article, we first explain our method and describe our sample of respondents. We then present the residential context of their settlement within Greater Brisbane. In the following section, we attend to a conceptual overview of ‘social bridging’ with special attention given to the literature on migrant settlement. We then present our data analysis illustrated by direct citation from the dataset of 47 interviews. We elaborate on our findings in the discussion section with theoretical and policy implications in mind, and conclude with some recommendation for policy. Method The interview data analysed in this article was collected as part of a larger study on refugee settlement in Queensland, Australia, focused on employment outcomes and intergenerational employment aspirations of refugee settlers.22 We conducted in-depth, semi-structured interviews with 47 refugee arrivals from Burma (from Karen, Karenni and Chin backgrounds), Ethiopia (from Amhara and Tigrian backgrounds) and the Democratic Republic of Congo. All interviewees were in Australia for at least a year at the time of interview. The interviews were conducted in 2015 with the assistance of our study ‘industry partner’, a Logan City-based refugee settlement and employment agency. The agency assisted in accessing respondents and seconded their staff to work with us as bilingual assistants (BAs). The BAs helped organize the interviews and acted as interpreters in 27 out of 47 interviews. The duration of interviews varied considerably and those where interpreting was needed lasted longer. The interviews were focused on several themes. After collecting basic demographic and socio-economic information, we asked our participants about their settlement experience, focusing on their employment situation, educational and employment aspirations for themselves and their children, and their social engagement and networking with locals (‘Australians’). In this article, we focus on the latter aspect of their settlement. The central research question guiding this article is: ‘Are the three groups of refugee settlers able to residentially integrate and build advantageous bridging social networks with their neighbours in suburban Brisbane?’ All the interviews were audio-taped and transcribed verbatim. The transcripts were individually coded by three researchers from the project research team using the inductive, interpretive principles of grounded theory as a method of identifying themes and categories and establishing relationships between them (Strauss and Corbin 1990). The three researchers who coded the data met to review and revise the coding structure. The interaction with neighbours emerged as a major interview theme; when asked a broader question exploring the formation of bridging social networks, a large majority of respondents talked about their neighbourhoods, which points to the importance placed on neighbourhood experiences. The Sample of Participants In our sample of 47 participants, 26 interviewees were women and 21 men; 25 were from Burma, 11 from Ethiopia and 11 from Congo. The common country of origin, however, does not necessarily mean co-ethnic similarity or affinity, as different ethnic groups from the same country may, and indeed do, have varied linguist and religious backgrounds, as specified above. Forty interviewees were married and the remaining seven were separated or widowed; they all had children. As shown in Table 1, the Ethiopian participants had been in Australia the longest, as compared to the participants from Congo and Burma. Not surprisingly, the English-language proficiency within the country-origin groups reflected their length of residence in Australia. Twenty-five interviewees were employed and 22 unemployed; this has relevance for the topic of this article insofar as unemployed people are likely to spend more time within their local area and are therefore more likely to interact with neighbours and to be more ‘dependent’ on these everyday interactions, emotionally and practically, than employed people who may spend most of their day away at work and may have more opportunity to build their bridging networks there. Table 1 Overview of the Sample of Participants Country of origin Average length of residence in Australia (years) Good English-language proficiency (%) Employed Unemployed Total Burma 5.3 8 (32) 14 11 25 Congo 6.1 5 (45) 5 6 11 Ethiopia 14.4 7 (64) 6 5 11 Total 7.7 20 (43) 25 22 47 Country of origin Average length of residence in Australia (years) Good English-language proficiency (%) Employed Unemployed Total Burma 5.3 8 (32) 14 11 25 Congo 6.1 5 (45) 5 6 11 Ethiopia 14.4 7 (64) 6 5 11 Total 7.7 20 (43) 25 22 47 All participants arrived in Australia on permanent protection visas as part of the Australian ‘off-shore’ humanitarian programme. This means that many arrived through the UNHCR resettlement programme after spending extended periods of time, in some cases decades, in refugee camps. This experience may have coloured the expectations about residential integration and neighbourliness for some of our participants. The Residential Context: Logan, Brisbane and Ipswich Our interview respondents lived in three local government areas (LGAs) within Greater Brisbane: Brisbane, Ipswich and Logan. Brisbane is a large LGA, comprising the central business district and surrounding suburbs; with over one million residents, its ethnic diversity and socio-economic profiles predictably reflect average Australian values (Table 2). Ipswich and Logan are smaller LGAs, not so much in terms of area, but rather in terms of population (Table 2), which indicates that these areas are less densely populated and more suburban (Ipswich particularly so). The two LGAs did not record high levels of multicultural diversity in the 2011 census, but their SEIFA33 ranks, representing their socio-economic profiles, were low (Table 2). Yet, there is considerable socio-economic diversity in the profiles of suburbs within these two LGAs, with some suburbs being significantly disadvantaged and others having average or above average Socio-economic Indexes for Areas (SEIFA) scores. For instance, Woodridge, a suburb within Logan, had an unemployment rate of 14 per cent in 2011, which is close to three times national average; 46 per cent of its residents were overseas-born and its SEIFA rank was 1 (ABS 2013g; QGSO 2014a). The suburb of Kingston within Logan LGA had an unemployment rate of 12.1 per cent in 2011 and also the lowest SEIFA score of 1 (ABS 2013e; QGSO 2014b). Some suburbs within Ipswich are known for high unemployment, especially youth unemployment, alongside other symptoms of socio-economic disadvantage (Marszalek 2015). For example, Goodna, a suburb in Ipswich LGA, had an unemployment rate of 11.5 per cent and a SEIFA score of 1 (ABS 2013d; QGSO 2014b). Similarly, the suburbs of Durack and Acacia Ridge within Brisbane LGA had the lowest SEIFA score of 1 in 2011 (QGSO 2014b) with respective unemployment rates of 8.0 per cent and 9.3 per cent (ABS 2013a, 2013c). Table 2 Logan, Ipswich and Brisbane LGAs: Select Data from the 2011 Census Logan LGA Ipswich LGA Brisbane LGA Area/population 960 km2/ 278,061 1.090 km2/ 166,908 1,326 km2/ 1,041,821 Median weekly family income $1,381 $1,398 $1,873 Unemployment rate 7.1 7.2 5.3 SEIFA rank 2 1 5 Overseas-born as proportion of population 31.8% 24.0% 33.4% English only spoken at home 82.2% 85.7% 76.7% Bachelor or higher degree qualification achieved 9.5% 9.9% 20.1% Most common occupations Technicians and trades workers (17.0%) Technicians and trades workers (16.2%) Professionals (29.0%) Logan LGA Ipswich LGA Brisbane LGA Area/population 960 km2/ 278,061 1.090 km2/ 166,908 1,326 km2/ 1,041,821 Median weekly family income $1,381 $1,398 $1,873 Unemployment rate 7.1 7.2 5.3 SEIFA rank 2 1 5 Overseas-born as proportion of population 31.8% 24.0% 33.4% English only spoken at home 82.2% 85.7% 76.7% Bachelor or higher degree qualification achieved 9.5% 9.9% 20.1% Most common occupations Technicians and trades workers (17.0%) Technicians and trades workers (16.2%) Professionals (29.0%) Official statistics show that refugee resettlement areas are typically areas marked by relative socio-economic deprivation. In Australian metropolitan contexts, where, for more than two decades, housing prices have been high and housing affordability critically low, lower housing cost, including subsidized social housing and low-cost private rental, is a key factor in the formation of refugee residential concentrations (Daley 2007; Colic-Peisker and Tilbury 2008; Cheshire and Zappia 2015; Jacks 2016). In 2015, the average weekly rent for a house in Logan and Ipswich was $300–$330 compared to $465 in Brisbane (Cross 2015). Other factors leading refugee arrivals to settle in certain areas is the availability of settlement services, including short-term ‘on-arrival accommodation’ provided by the government; a ‘chain-settlement’ pattern where new arrivals settle close to people they know and their co-ethnics more generally; and availability of low-skilled jobs (Carter et al. 2009). A large majority of our respondents lived in Logan (32/47) and smaller numbers in Brisbane (11/47) and Ipswich (4/47). All participants lived in suburbs within the LGAs which had a higher percentage of social housing subsidized by either state government or community and church group, compared to other suburbs. For instance, all interview participants from Burma lived in Logan suburbs with high percentages of people in social housing such as Loganlea (18.3 per cent), Woodridge (14.2 per cent), Slacks Creek (10.6 per cent) and Logan Central (16.2 per cent). In comparison, the overall percentage of residents living in social housing in Brisbane LGA is 4.7 per cent. All Ethiopian participants lived in Brisbane suburbs such as Acacia Ridge (17.6 per cent), Moorooka (6.9 per cent) or Durack (5.1 per cent); a few Congolese participants lived in an Ipswich suburb of Goodna (12.7 per cent) and the rest in Logan Central (16.2 per cent). With high unemployment, low socio-economic profiles and high ethno-cultural diversity, these areas of Logan have gained a reputation as a ‘dumping ground’ affected by ethnic tensions (Cheshire and Zappia 2015; SBS 2016). In 2008, local media reported an attack by eight Pacific Islanders on a relative of a rugby league player (The Courier Mail 2011)—reportedly a revenge for an earlier attack by a group of Aboriginal men (SMH 2008). Since then, local and national media have reported ongoing tensions between immigrant and Indigenous communities in Logan (ABC 2013; The Brisbane Times 2013; The Courier Mail 2013).44 Such media coverage can significantly, and negatively, affect public perceptions of immigrant and diversity in general (Iyengar 1991; Kellstedt 2000; Esses et al. 2013) and, in turn, negatively affect the formation of bridging social network of recent arrivals and longer-term locals. Migrants’ Social Bridging: A Conceptual Overview Social connectedness is a significant aspect of both social status and life satisfaction. This applies across cultures but specific forms of social connectedness vary considerably and are culturally specific. The issue of social connectedness presents a particular challenge for transnational migrants, and even more so for forced migrants among them. On the one hand, they move out of their usual social and cultural milieu and lose their social support structures and networks; on the other hand, they are compelled to build new social connections in a new, often spatially and socially unfamiliar environment, which can be difficult. For most refugees, the difficulty is compounded by the language barrier. Being a key dimension of social life, social connectedness has been theorized from many perspectives, with a focus on different key concepts. Theorizing ‘community’, its meaning and its crisis in the modern urban society is more than a century old (see Tönnies 1887/1963; Cohen 1985; Mulligan 2015). In the 1980s, ‘social capital’ became a prominent concept (Bourdieu 1986; Portes 1998; Putnam 2000). The conceptual shift from community to social capital indicated a penetration of the dominant economic paradigm into social sciences (Colic-Peisker and Waxman 2005). Social capital is seen as containing two distinct sub-categories: ‘bonding’ and ‘bridging’ capital, also conceptualized as ‘strong’ and ‘weak’ (social) ties (Granovetter 1973; Korac 2005). Much of recent writing on social connectedness focuses on social harmony and conflict, especially to do with immigration and consequent ethnic diversity; the central concepts of this strand of research are ‘social cohesion’ and ‘community cohesion’ (Robinson 2005; Chan et al. 2006; Colic-Peisker and Robertson 2015; Markus 2015). In this article, we focus on ‘bridging social capital’ that connects people with different demographic and socio-economic characteristics (also known as ‘weak ties’; see Granovetter 1973), as opposed to ‘bonding’ social capital that may connect close friends, family and co-ethnics. Bridging social capital is necessary in neighbourhoods if they are to be safe and friendly. It is also instrumental in job-search processes, especially in securing ‘mainstream employment’ beyond unattractive jobs in ‘ethnic niches’ (Woolcock 1998; Colic-Peisker and Waxman 2005; Colic-Peisker and Tilbury 2006). Bridging social capital advances different aspects of social inclusion, such as access to relevant (often informal) information and development of a local identity and a feeling of belonging—the aspects that are especially relevant for recent immigrants (Dekker 2007). Ager and Strang (2008) found that the ‘friendliness of local people’ played a central role in making refugees and migrants feel ‘at home’ in a new social environment. Being recognized and greeted by others in the neighbourhood has a disproportionately positive impact on newcomers’ perceptions of not just their neighbourhood, but the host society more broadly; such small acts of friendliness appeared to also positively affect refugees’ quality of life (Ager and Strang 2008; Cook et al. 2011). These mundane everyday encounters promote tolerance and civility among diverse communities and neighbourhoods (Cook et al. 2011). Conversely, an inhospitable neighbourhood may undermine other aspects of integration (Ager and Strang 2008). Literature on the integration of refugees into host communities is often focused on issues relating to social harmony and socio-economic participation of recent arrivals in the host society. As shown repeatedly, language and cultural competence are necessary for effective integration and social inclusion of immigrants and refugees (Ager and Strang 2008). This can be applied to the level of local neighbourhood: language proficiency and understanding of local ‘host’ culture can act as a constraint or a facilitator in building bridging social networks (Cook et al. 2011). Another study of community relations in areas of refugee settlement in the United Kingdom found that relations were mostly at the ‘informal, individual and superficial level without leading to meaningful relationships’ (Daley 2007: 163). For those who did develop relationships with neighbours, religious faith proved to be a major facilitator (Daley 2007). Daley (2007) found that, for the most part, participants were happy to be safe and just kept within their comfort zones by mingling with others who shared their culture, religion and language—that is, nurturing their ‘bonding social capital’ within their ethnic enclaves (Daley 2007). Bridging social-network literature also considered policies that could help build ‘weak’ but important social connections. Korac (2005: 87) argued that, while ‘governments cannot directly affect the formation of bridging social capital, it is possible to develop policies that facilitate it’. A United Kingdom study by Lewis and Craig (2014) found that national-level discourse undermined good local-community practice through discourse which stigmatized British Muslims, therefore erecting barriers to integration. While community cohesion policy de-emphasized the significance of ‘race’, the country’s security and immigration discourses highlighted ethnic and religious differences and highlighted Muslims as ‘others’. As mentioned above, the areas of migrant and especially refugee settlement are often disadvantaged, which does not make building social bridges any easier. When the language barrier, cross-cultural communication difficulties and acculturative stress are compounded by socio-economic stressors such as unemployment, poor housing, youth disengagement and delinquency and ethnic tensions, building bridging social capital can be exceedingly difficult (Carter et al. 2009). Cheshire and Zappia’s (2015) study of the Logan LGA reveals the narrative of this locality being a ‘dumping ground’ for humanitarian entrants, not only in the media, but also among longer-term local residents who felt resentful towards what they perceived as government’s spatial management bringing in undesirable groups, especially asylum seekers and refugees. Consequently, the residents were disinclined to welcome new arrivals and engage with them. Using a large dataset of the Longitudinal Survey of Immigrants to Australia to look at the housing experience of recent refugee arrivals, Forrest et al. (2013) found that most were private renters and relatively satisfied with their housing situation. Yet, in Australia, being an owner-occupier (rather than a renter) is likely to confer additional status and signal residential stability that makes neighbours more inclined to know each other and interact (Colic-Peisker and Johnson 2012). This issue may disadvantage refugee arrivals in terms of social bridging, as they tend to stay in private rental market for a long time, due to high housing prices and scarcity of subsidized housing (Flatau et al. 2014). Looking at skilled migrants, Forrest et al. (2014: 109) found that the visa category (correlated with human and financial capital at the migrants’ disposal) was the most important predictor of ‘assimilation to the Great Australian (Homeownership) Dream’. In this context, the humanitarian entrants are again sure to be the worst off. Data Analysis: Know Thy Neighbour, for Better or for Worse Over half of our interview participants (26/47) reported having good or at least non-problematic relationships with their neighbours. However, nearly half experienced isolation, lack of friendliness or even a conflict with neighbours. Our data paints a picture of local relationships ranging from very friendly to hostile, with English-language proficiency and cultural differences significantly affecting these outcomes and the length of residence in Australia not presenting as a major factor. For example, even though the Ethiopians have been in Australia the longest, many had limited English-language proficiency and were therefore unable to actively build good relations with their neighbours. A considerable number of relatively recent arrivals from Burma reported living in friendly neighbourhoods (11/25) and having a good relationship with their diverse neighbours. One Karenni woman described her helpful and kind neighbours (of Irish ancestry, born in Australia): Um yea, yea I do have friend, Australian friends around here, for example if I’m going to school, I’m going walk to the bus stop, then they stop me …. ‘Jump in to my car I can drop you there.’ But sometimes when my husband going to get the food, and then we give to them, so we’re sharing the food. One Chin woman who was unemployed and whose English was extremely limited told us she communicated nonverbally with her Samoan neighbours. If anything specific had to be communicated, her children stepped in to assist. Most Karen interviewees (7/10) , however, said they did not experience smooth incorporation in their neighbourhoods. Three participants told us they had problems with their neighbours who called police because they thought that ‘Karen food smelt’; while this may seem a trivial issue not worthy of calling the police, a United States-based study also found that apartment neighbours complained about the ‘odour’ of Karen cooking (Kenny and Lockwood-Kenny 2011). Limited or Unfriendly Interactions with Neighbours A common theme that emerged in the interviews was interactions with neighbours that could be placed on a continuum from ‘neutral’ to negative, ranging from limited and restrained to outright hostile interactions. For example, an Ethiopian man told us that his contact with neighbours was limited to polite but meaningless ‘How are you?’. A Karen woman reported that she was apprehensive about interacting with her neighbours: I dare not to—to make a friend with them. If they nice, we are nice too. I dare not to go to talk to them first but if they come to my house I welcome them. Several participants described experiencing hostility from their neighbours. A Karen man told us that he did not feel welcome in his neighbourhood: We’re not sure sometimes, yeah [about neighbours] … we are—I worry that I might go to the jail. I don’t want to—I don’t want to—how to say—to go—to go and communicate with them first. If they come to see, yeah, that’s fine. And also I feel a bit [apprehensive] I dare not to make a friend with them. If they nice, we are nice too. He went on to tell us how, one day, his neighbours called police for the smell of their (Karen) cooking: But sometimes, because the food that we eat is maybe a bit smell or something like that, they call the police. The police came and we told them that we cooking. We making our culture food. Another Karen woman thought that her Australian and Indian neighbours were especially rude to them ‘because we are refugees and have no education’. One Karenni woman told us a story about a neighbour who threw a dirty nappy onto her roof apparently unprovoked, given that she had never spoken to them. She did not want to be involved in conflict with neighbours and hence she ignored the incident. Another Karenni woman spoke at length about her Australian neighbours: My neighbour[s] are not very nice to me. They are so rude, yeah. Because we come from refugee status, I think we have no education, but our neighbour have low attitude, low behaviour. She told us that her Australian neighbour of seven years, who lived on the other side, used to yell at her children and call them ‘bad words’. ‘We don’t have confidence to react. We scared of everything,’ she explained. However, after years of putting up with such behaviour, a couple of months ago, she decided to react: She [the neighbour] yelled at my children and I told her ‘You are so rude! I am human being you should not treat me like that anymore. You never nice to me. If you need to talk to me something, you can come and see me, talk to me nicely.’ The neighbour then apologized for her bad behaviour and never talked to her again. The respondent told us she wanted to move from her current suburb to the Gold Coast because her friends told her that the ‘neighbours there are polite’. Another Karenni woman recalled a past experience of her ‘white-skinned’ neighbour steeling things from her home: ‘So my neighbour is very bad. Sometime they come to get my … steal something from my house and they [make a noise] so they are not really nice.’ She also reported that sometimes people, whom she recognized as ‘Aboriginals’, were rude to her on the street and yelled at her in English, but she was unable to understand them. One Chin man reported a particularly unpleasant experience when his neighbour took him to court because his dog barked. After this, his landlord asked him to move out of the house. Reflecting on prejudice among his neighbours and how they may see him, one Karen participant told us: I think many people will see me as an Australian when I talk to them but some people, they will see me like a refugee or ‘Asian people’. Like as I say, sometimes they do call out swear words ‘fucking Asian people’, so I feel like, yeah, they do see us like Asian people or something. I don’t know what Asian people do something wrong for them [to be treated in this way]. One Congolese woman reported having unpleasant exchanges with her Australian neighbour whose teenaged kids ‘threw rocks at their house and smoked marijuana on her driveway’. She told us that ‘as African is hard to call police for the neighbours’. Therefore, she took no action, as she did not have the gumption to escalate and try to resolve the conflict. Language as a Barrier to Social Bridging In their study of Burundian and Burmese refugees in the United States, Nawyn et al. (2012) argue that English acquisition is a form of social capital that eludes linguistically isolated refugees. Our data indicates that the lack of English represents the biggest barrier between refugee settlers and other locals and the main obstacle to building bridging social capital with a wider Australian community in their neighbourhoods and beyond. Due to limited English, some Ethiopian participants held themselves back from interacting with non-Ethiopians and only socialized with their co-ethnics who lived in the vicinity. The same applied to three out of 10 Chin participants and two Karenni participants who, due to language issues, had no other options but to stick to their supportive ethnic enclave with its often limiting bonding social capital. Few Karen participants did not have the courage to initiate interaction with neighbours either, due to poor English. An Ethiopian man told us: ‘I can’t say anything [about friendliness] because I don’t regularly communicate with them because of the language.’ A Karenni woman described talking to her neighbours but ‘just [using] body language’. An experience of a Congolese woman conveys well the difficulty of cross-cultural orientation and social bridging with neighbours when a ‘common language’ is not there in a most literal sense: The language is key when you can’t communicate with the neighbour. When you arrive, you can’t catch the language. Is so hard. I have my next door [neighbour] who was coming to my door every morning and then he will talk, talk, talk, talk, but I couldn’t hear [understand] what he’s talking about. And then for me it was like I don’t know if he was—yeah. So I went to the [settlement agency] office and said, ‘I have a neighbour there. I don’t know if he’s welcome me or I don’t know what he’s talking about’. So they came then talk to him but I didn’t know … I am not sure if he was good or bad to me. Then after three weeks they are move me [from] that place. … Maybe that neighbour wasn’t a good neighbour. We also came across cases where participants used the interaction with neighbours as an opportunity to develop their English-language proficiency. An unemployed Karenni woman (mentioned previously) had good relations with her Irish-Australian neighbours and tried to speak English with them. Similarly, another Karenni woman described having nice Vietnamese neighbours: ‘yeah so trying to speak, they can also speak my language. Trying to speak in English and sometimes the broken language.’ Cultural Differences and Neighbourhood Social Bridging Different, culturally formed concepts of neighbourhood and neighbourliness may also hamper the development of good relations with co-located people in the context of local ethnic diversity. One Ethiopian man lamented that the relationship with neighbours was different in Australia when compared to Ethiopia, where there was lot more informal interaction with neighbours: ‘[Here you] just says hello to neighbours there is no more interaction unlike in Ethiopia where neighbours come and go to your house.’ He said he had no non-Ethiopian friends because he could not communicate in English without an interpreter. However, he told us that, in one instance, an Australian neighbour helped him out when a tree fell on his house in a storm. An Ethiopian woman compared Ethiopian neighbours to Australian neighbours by saying: Neighbour [in Ethiopia] is your family. This person can come anytime, my house is open. They can come take salt, they can come take oil. We share, and we are like a family. Anytime I go somewhere, my child[ren] can walk there. I don’t have to tell them ‘stay with them.’ But we don’t have that here. Bit isolated. A large majority (8/11) of Congolese participants reported having good relationships with their neighbours. They seemed aware of culturally defined ‘boundaries’ so as to not bother their neighbours but, overall, they would have liked more local interaction and they considered the current interaction extremely limited. One Congolese man admitted never talking with his neighbours. He shared with us his perception of cultural differences determining neighbourhood interactions: They just busy and don’t even say hello. Yeah, is depends to everybody where you are and, you know, we sometimes make good neighbours and sometimes you don’t. But where I live really, yeah, for us, as African where we live back home your neighbour is your relative, and [its] quite hard because here, when I have a problem now, I will be calling my relatives that are kilometres away. One Congolese woman told us she gained some insights about how to behave with neighbours in Australia during a cultural orientation session in the refugee camp. This newfound knowledge made her aware how different Australian customs were compared to African: for orientation they give to us, they say in Australia you need to look after your neighbour. You don’t need to make noise. You don’t need to do like thing like you can affect your neighbour. But here [in Australia] it is different. In Africa wake up in the morning and say, ‘Oh, how are you? How do you feel? Are you right? Just come have a cup of tea here.’ And then they say, here, no …. Don’t make noise. So it was hard to go to the neighbour, ‘How are you?’ So when we go out, that’s just like a culture [difference]. Clearly, these recent settlers did not fully appreciate the Australian norms of privacy and they found the suburbia of a metropolitan city somewhat alienating. Cultural differences and/or lack of cultural knowledge about expected neighbourly etiquette precluded the development of ‘weak ties’ with neighbours. The lack of confidence with their English exacerbated the problem, as it hampered the accumulation of such cross-cultural knowledge, thus isolating new arrivals from their diverse neighbours and leading them to a relative intra-ethnic isolation. Discussion and Conclusion The aim of this article was to explore the residential integration of refugee settlers into their ‘host neighbourhoods’ within Greater Brisbane. Our conceptual emphasis on the development of bridging social capital in residential localities emerged inductively from the data through the employment of grounded theory approach in the course of a research project with the overall focus on refugee employment aspirations. The interview narratives analysed above focused on the difficulties recent refugee settlers encountered in developing a meaningful cross-cultural interaction with their neighbours. The difficulties were mainly attributable to the language and cultural barriers. Yet, even for the native-born, Australian low-density car-dependent suburbia, and especially its extreme variety sometimes dubbed ‘dormitory suburbs’, is not typically a social setting that offers opportunities for spontaneous neighbourly encounters from which locally based bridging social capital may develop. For the digitally connected, relatively affluent, residentially mobile suburbanites, limited contact with neighbours seems to be a norm and local-community networks and social capital cohesion are not residents’ priority (Kelly et al. 2012). According to some Australian authors such as Kelly et al. (2012), ‘affirmative neighbourhoods’ featuring meaningful and supportive local relations have receded in recent decades and Australian cities have become less ‘social’. Apart from the general anonymity of urban living, various middle-range factors contributed to the retreat to excessive privatism in the Australian cities. For example, Australia is increasingly secular, which means that church attendance, once an important focal point of local sociality and solidarity, is increasingly a marginal pursuit left to the elderly, especially among the Anglo-Australian majority (belonging to the Anglican and other reformed churches’ shrinking congregations). In twenty-first-century Australia, the Sunday mass is likely to be replaced by Sunday shopping—a pursuit that places individualist consumption above traditional customs that nurtured local sociality. While most of our respondents attended church, this was mostly an intra-ethnic pursuit rather than an opportunity to develop a bridging social capital. In contemporary metropolitan Australia, another significant, perhaps the main, opportunity to meet other locals are local schools. While all our respondents had children of school age, this opportunity was hampered by the language and cultural barriers. Following Putnam’s (2000) contention, multicultural heterogeneity may have diminished the likelihood of meaningfully connecting with parents of one’s children’s friends. Does this matter? Are we to assume that residential propinquity should lead to the establishment of supportive social bonds? Do we need a local face-to-face community in the era marked by the explosion of ‘virtual’, predominantly social media connectedness? Opinions on this are divided. Some authors deplore the decline of social capital while others argue that it has not diminished, but rather assumed new forms. Putnam (2000: 27) argued that ‘over the past third of the 20th century, Americans have been pulled apart from one another’ in the process of community decline. Stiglitz et al. (2009: 51) argued that the benefits of social connections extend to people’s health and to the probability of finding a job, as well as to several characteristics of the neighbourhood where people live (e.g. the prevalence of crime and the performance of local schools). These social connections are sometimes described as ‘social capital’ to highlight the benefits (direct and indirect) that they bring. Much earlier, Jane Jacobs (1961) claimed that cities needed to be planned with regard to human needs, social connectedness being central among them; suburbs and neighbourhoods were likely to foster community if they were diverse, walkable and planned for mixed use, residential and commercial, rather than separating these functions. Most Australian suburbs do not fit this description. We started the work on this article with the assumption that local connectedness would benefit recent refugee arrivals, especially given that this seems something they value and have had in their pre-Australian lives. What we found is hegemonic cultural assumptions about what is a ‘normal’ and desirable state of being in residential locations that are unfamiliar and alienating to recent refugee arrivals from significantly different cultural backgrounds, as discussed above. In Australia, these hegemonic assumptions include low urban density, detached single-family homes and homeownership as a ‘normal’ (and advantageous) housing tenure. Private renting, on the other hand, with its short-term leases, usually suggests high mobility and ‘non-belonging’ to the place (Stone and Hulse 2007). Subsidized social housing is a small (under 5 per cent) section of total housing and renting in this sector carries a stigma of ‘complex disadvantage’ rather than just low income. Further, Australian norms stipulate low levels of neighbourhood interaction and emphasize privacy and ‘civil inattention’; overt friendliness may be interpreted as intrusion or met with suspicion (Goffman 1971). A cordial ‘people orientation’ may be also considered an undesirable ‘working-class style’ shunned by aspiring middle classes (Gans 1962). Over the past 40 years, ‘visible’ ethno-cultural diversity and multiculturalism have been normalized and gradually added to the set of Australian cultural assumption, but practising this diversity is often limited to cosmopolitan consumption in ethnic restaurants and ‘multicultural precincts’ rather than leading to inter-ethnic bridging social capital (Colic-Peisker and Robertson 2015). In the context of non-sociable low-density suburbs of Australian major cities, a failure to build bridging social capital in one’s neighbourhoods may, paradoxically, be a sign of assimilation into the mainstream suburban residential norms that emphasize excessive privacy and ‘non-interference’ in one’s neighbours’ splendid isolation. On the other hand, the most common Australian method of social bridging, through professional networks and the workplace in general, eludes refugee settlers due to their consistent and enduring channelling into the secondary segment of the labour market where locals are not commonly found (Colic-Peisker and Tilbury 2006; ABC 2016a): for specific groups in our sample, these low-skilled labour-market niches include meatworks, cleaning, deckhands, farmhands, aged care, disability services and construction. Refugee settlers usually have limited economic resources at their disposal upon arrival. They start their Australian residence as private or social renters and tend to settle in affordable neighbourhoods that are also those with relatively low socio-economic profiles. Once refugee communities form residential concentrations, they become more visible to their neighbours with various possible effects—often negative—to such ‘visibility’ (Wickes et al. 2014). Most new arrivals stay in the area of initial settlement regardless of their satisfaction with the neighbourhood, as low income limits their residential options and discourages residential mobility which is associated with considerable relocation expense. The location of various settlement support agencies and the presence of supportive intra-ethnic networks contribute to refugee settlers’ staying put in the area of initial settlement. The areas of refugee settlement in Australian capital cities are associated with socio-economic deprivation such as high unemployment, especially among youth, and a higher-than-average incidence of illicit drug use and delinquency (Cheshire and Zappia 2015). The presence of such issues in the neighbourhoods is likely to cause further retreat to familial or individual privacy, hampering the development of bridging social capital. How do our findings fit into the insights gleaned from earlier studies? If we look at the three groups comparatively, the arrivals from Burma, concentrated in suburbs within Logan LGA, seemed to have less positive neighbourhood experiences than the African groups. The three Congolese interviewees who reported poor neighbourhood experiences also lived in Logan. With the same level of socio-economic disadvantage, Logan is more ethnically diverse, including a high number of recent arrivals, which may have negative implications for the local-community cohesion and social bridging. Most of our respondents had entry-level low-skilled jobs in the ‘secondary labour market’ where refugee arrivals concentrate and where their co-workers tend to be either co-ethnics or other non-English speakers. Such employment contexts do little in terms of enabling workers to improve their English and to build the ‘weak ties’ necessary for breaking into the mainstream labour market and securing better jobs. In terms of meeting neighbours through children’s school, many of our Chin participants kept in touch with their children’s schools and attended parent–teacher meetings, even though some needed the assistance of an interpreter. Some Karenni parents, themselves not formally educated, had never visited their children’s school; most Karen settlers in our sample of interviewees did not interact with their children’s schools either. In contrast to the Burmese-origin groups, a greater number of Ethiopian and Congolese parents were actively engaged with their children’s schools. This may be due to their longer residence in Australia, which brought more familiarity with the language as well as with the school system and its expectations. Other factors at play in obstructing the development of bridging social capital are structural and outside the reach of the refugee settlers’ agency: it has been shown that competition for scarce resources, such as subsidized housing or affordable private rental housing in low-income suburbs, may lead to animosities between new arrivals and longer-term low-income residents (Colic-Peisker and Tilbury 2008). Another structural factor is prejudice and racism, especially directed towards refugees, as discussed above. Negative public attitudes towards refugees may be even more present in Queensland, the home-state and the key support base of the xenophobic One Nation party that recently (2016) repeated its electoral success of the late 1990s (Stimson and Davis 1998). In conclusion, we found that nearly half of our respondents were not able to develop any bridging social capital in their neighbourhoods. This seems to be more of a problem to them than to the native-born, as the interactions at a micro-residential level seemed important to them. These interaction, or a lack of them, influenced their general feeling of being welcomed to Australia. Both levels—the micro-residential social bridging and a more general feeling of welcome to the new country—combine in enabling (or otherwise) refugee settlers to integrate and lead satisfying lives. Our study shows that the informal support in residential contexts within Greater Brisbane may be precarious and that developing bridging social networks is challenging for recent refugee settlers. This article has contributed to existing evidence on the challenges of immigrant settlement in the context of socio-economic disadvantage and ethnic diversity (e.g. see Lobo 2010). Given the problems this article identified and in the wake of other studies pointing to these or closely related issues, how can building social bridges and cohesive local communities be fostered? There are multiple settlement assistance programmes already in existence in Australia, but educating the mainstream community may be a way to counter negative stereotypes about refugees and therefore create a more welcoming local milieu. For example, local media coverage of successful refugee settlers and their economic and other contributions to the local community may be helpful. Locally available flexible English tuition could help new arrivals reach a level of English at which they can ‘dare’ to talk to their neighbours and practise further, thus building bridging social capital. While our project was limited to refugee settlers, further research can investigate whether the refugee experience of residential integration in relatively disadvantaged neighbourhoods, such as those where we found our participants, is unique to refugee populations or it may apply to other ‘visible’ immigrant populations with comparable socio-economic backgrounds. Acknowledgements This research project was supported by an Australian Research Council Linkage Project Grant (LP120200076) 2012–2015. The authors would like to thank our partner organization, Access Community Services Ltd, for their assistance with the data-collection process. Footnotes 1. The statistics reported in Jacks’s (2016) article were taken from the Australian Curriculum, Assessment and Reporting Authority website. See My School, at http://www.myschool.edu.au/ (accessed 28 March 2017). 2. ARC Linkage grant LP120200076, 2012–2015. The Final Report from the project can be found at http://espace.library.uq.edu.au/view/UQ:381262/UQ381262_OA.pdf (accessed 28 March 2017). 3. Australian Bureau of Statistics’ ‘Socio-economic Indexes for Areas’ (SEIFA) consists of several indices, which, when combined, provide detailed socio-economic profiles of statistical areas of various sizes. SEIFA rank takes into account a number of census variables such as income, education, occupation, unemployment rate, language proficiency, family composition, etc. (ABS 2013h). A higher score on the 1–10 scale indicates a higher socio-economic profile. 4. Indigenous population is also concentrated in relatively disadvantaged areas. 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