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The Need

Many barriers prevent refugees who have settled in Australia from accessing services which the general population takes for granted.  These include health services, disability and aged care services, and social services provided by government, private organisations (such as utilities providers), and non-profit organisations. 


Challenges for Refugees

  • Language barriers

  • Lack of education

  • Cultural differences

  • Poverty

  • Fear, distrust

  • Illnesses and/or disability

  • Effects of previous exposure to torture, trauma and deprivation - cognitive, emotional, physical

  • Settlement stress and culture shock

  • Inability to navigate a complex technological society and its services

  • Religion and worldview - differing beliefs about illnesses and how to treat them

  • Stigma

  • Lack of awareness of what services exist and what they can achieve

  • Lack of the ability to know and uphold their human rights after a lifetime of having none


Due to the circumstances that forced refugees to flee their homes, many have disabilities which continue to be ignored, as they have no way of accessing NDIS services to improve their independence so that they can participate in, and contribute to society. This traps them in ill health, poverty, disadvantage, vulnerability, and social isolation. Adults quickly feel dis-empowered, helpless, without hope, and constantly fear for their family’s future.  Some are exploited by unscrupulous individuals. Children become overburdened with responsibilities that are inappropriate for their age.  Their parents’ needs seem relentless, and their educational outcomes are often severely affected. This perpetuates the inequalities and poverty down the generations.

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The result is enormous suffering among people living close to the services they need without the ability to access them, as well as very inefficient use of professionals’ time.

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Challenges for Disability and Health Care Providers

  •  Language barriers and difficulties working with interpreters

  • Cultural differences and lack of cross-cultural competence

  • Lack of knowledge about exotic diseases and their treatments

  • Lack of knowledge about other services available for refugee patients

  • Patients with multiple complex illnesses

  • Excessive strain on service resources

  • Inappropriate use of services

  • Poor treatment compliance, lack of attendance, and loss to follow up

  •  Inability to impact the social determinants of disease and disadvantag

  • Fragmentation and poor integration of services

  • Undiagnosed conditions presenting to tertiary care

Service providers, particularly disability and health care providers, have their own set of obstacles to providing quality care and supports for refugees and migrants.  These place enormous pressure on time-constraints, and many professionals and organisations find it frustrating and unrewarding.  Most disability service-providers have little, if any, experience or ability to effectively work cross-culturally, and most are unfamiliar with the impacts that the refugee experience continues to have on their clients. Allied health providers need to be informed and educated as to how to provide their services in a manner which will achieve the best outcomes for their clients. Many refugees and migrants who have been enabled to access the NDIS receive inferior support services, while some refuse to engage, or disengage with service providers because they do not understand their relevance, and/or fear having strangers come into their home, with whom they can barely communicate.