KAREN refugees at Nhill have boosted the town’s economy by more than $40 million in the past five years.
A new study, Small towns, big returns – economic and social impact of the Karen resettlement in Nhill’, has found up to 200 Karen refugees from Burma have settled at Nhill, leading to 70 jobs in the community.
The study also found that like many other regional towns Nhill faced a declining working-age population, resulting in a loss of services and economic prosperity in the town.
Hindmarsh Shire chief executive Tony Doyle said Nhill had been enriched economically and culturally by the presence of the Karen people.
‘‘This study is an important validation point for Nhill and we are expecting the influx of Karen people moving to the town to continue,’’ he said.
‘‘The social effect of the Karen settlement is extraordinary and the town has opened its hearts and minds to the Karen.
‘‘The resettlement has not only provided significant economic stimulus, it has enriched the community through exposure to another culture and has made Nhill a better place to live.’’
Mr Doyle said the town would need more support from state and federal governments to continue to provide essential services for the Karen people.
‘‘This study provides us with a strong argument and proves the economic benefit of the Karen community,’’ he said.
‘‘The critical mass of the Karen community has kept businesses going in town and therefore kept more people in town who might have otherwise moved away.’’
Mr Doyle said the study could pave the way for other Wimmera towns to take advantage of refugee resettlement.
‘‘Nhill is a great example of a way forward for any small rural town suffering population decline,’’ he said.
The report said a declining population in the town and a low unemployment rate were key factors in the resettlement.
‘‘In particular there was a need for labour to support the expansion of Luv-a-Duck, the largest Nhill business, and driven by a combination of economic and humanitarian motivations, Luv-a-Duck management identified the Karen as potential employees,’’ the report said.
‘‘Through a staged recruitment and resettlement process, the Karen community now makes up about 10 per cent of the Nhill population, including significant numbers of working-age adults and families with young children.’’
Nhill resident Kawdoh Htoo was one of the first refugees to settle in the town.
He said he found Nhill different at first, but overall it had been a good experience.
‘‘I miss my home, I miss the jungle and rivers, but life is good here and it’s a good place for my family,’’ he said.
The study was done by Deloitte Access Economics and settlement agency AMES.