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Home > Publications > Reports > Barriers and exclusions: The support needs of newly arrived refugees with a disability

Barriers and exclusions: The support needs of newly arrived refugees with a disability

© UNHCR/G.Welters

Executive summary

Due to experiences of conflict, torture and displacement, people from refugee backgrounds are more likely to have a disability than other populations. However, until 2012, people with a disability and/or other significant health concerns were excluded from Australia’s resettlement program, representing a significant discrimination concern. This resulted in the exclusion of highly vulnerable refugees from resettlement to Australia. A policy change in 2012 resulted in an increase in the number of refugees with disabilities who were granted visas.

While this change has been welcomed by organisations working with people from refugee backgrounds, the natural consequence of this policy change has been an increase in the prevalence and diversity of disability among newly resettled refugees. With the increased number of people with a disability in Australia’s resettlement program, there is need to ensure that newly arrived refugees have the support services they need to live a life of inclusion and dignity. The quality of life of these individuals can, and is, being severely compromised due to inadequate access to assistive equipment and technology, specialist services, accessible housing and other mainstream supports.

This report focuses on the experience of refugee and humanitarian entrants arriving in Australia with a disability. Unfortunately, the increase of people arriving with a disability has not been met with appropriate funding and policies to fully support their resettlement and inclusion in Australian society. Without access to vital services, new arrivals with a disability will continue to be excluded.

Key issues for this group include: access to timely on-arrival assessment and support; provision of essential equipment and aides; lack of accessible and appropriate housing; inadequate support within the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS); lack of culturally appropriate disability services; and lack of translating and interpreting services within disability services and the NDIS. Together, these barriers create further hurdles for the inclusion of new refugees.

This report makes a number of recommendations to address the existing barriers and challenges for people from a refugee background with a disability.


Ensure accurate information transfers between services

That the Department of Social Services, Department of Home Affairs and contracted services should work to implement a system that ensures accurate and timely health information transfers from assessments offshore to health and settlement service providers providing on-arrival support.

Avoid settling people living with a disability in rural areas where needed services are not available

The Department of Social Services should limit or avoid settlement of entrants living with a disability in rural and regional areas that do not have access to a tertiary hospital or necessary specialised health services.

Give refugees priority access to support

Refugees and humanitarian entrants with a disability should receive priority access to disability support systems and professional medical advice and assessment, including doctors, physical therapists and allied health. This priority access should recognise the lack of disability support many people have received prior to arriving in Australia. This would include:

  • State-based equipment providers in each state and territory should include refugee status as a triage priority on waiting lists in recognition that most will have no existing equipment.
  • NDIS to require Early Childhood Early Intervention services to consider refugee status in triage.
  • Where prioritisation is not possible, funding for necessary services should be funded by DSS via SIS.

Provide funding for immediate access to disability support aids

The Department of Social Services should extend funding for hiring of disability support aids until people have access to State-wide Equipment Program funding or the NDIS.

Ensure specialised disability support officers in settlement services

The Department of Social Services should ensure that all refugees with a disability are provided with Specialised and Intensive Service support through the Humanitarian Settlement Program, in recognition of the case work needed to apply and contract services through the NDIS. Further, the Department of Social Services should consider ways to embed specialised disability support officers within on-arrival settlement services to ensure caseworkers supporting new arrivals with a disability can access staff who have expertise around the integration of disability and settlement service systems. Linking with local Disabled People’s Organisations or other disability advocacy organisations would be highly advantageous and would create positive outcomes.

Provide appropriate housing for people arriving with a disability

The Department of Social Services should ensure that housing settlement providers have adequate training in the needs of people with a disability, have access to appropriate housing stock, and contingencies for when a house in found to be manifestly inappropriate and a lease has to be broken.

Develop mechanisms to ensure full implementation of the NDIA CALD Strategy

The National Disability Insurance Agency (NDIA) should develop action items to ensure full implementation of the NDIA’s Cultural and Linguistic Diversity Strategy 2018 (CALD Strategy) and publish regular monitoring and evaluation reports to assess the implementation of this strategy.

Provide access to NDIS for refugees and people seeking asylum on temporary visas

People seeking asylum and refugees on Temporary Protection Visas and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas should have full access to disability support systems, including the NDIS.

Provide support to use the NDIS effectively

Refugee and humanitarian entrants with a disability should be provided with additional settlement support in order to understand and navigate access to the NDIS through the Humanitarian Settlement Program’s Specialised and Intensive Services. This should include additional hours to receive casework support so they can attend appointments and assessments, and support in completing the application for the NDIS.

Provide information on the NDIS

Refugee and humanitarian entrants with a disability should receive information on the NDIS in their preferred language or communication method, including through the use of professional accredited interpreters, translated material or any other communication method that suits their needs. This information should contain information about their rights, entitlements and expectations of the services they can receive, including information about independent advocacy services and how to access those supports if required.

Provide full access to interpreting services

The NDIA, through their CALD Strategy, should to develop and widely disseminate simple and easily understood information in English and in languages other than English which details how NDIS participants can access the free professional translating and interpreting supports.

Consideration should be given to develop clearer guidelines regarding the use of interpreters and translators in the NDIS.

Carers to be supported and included

The Australian Government should ensure that families and carers of people with a disability are informed of the services and supports available to them upon arrival. This should include ensuring that service providers are adequately trained and funded to work with people from refugee backgrounds.

Collect and use data to help plan better responses

The Australian Government should ensure that it collects and disseminates data on the prevalence of people with a disability who are arriving through the Refugee and Humanitarian Program. This data should be de-identified and made available publicly, while individual data should be provided confidentially to settlement service providers, with the person’s consent.

Ensure the NDIS collects data on people from refugee backgrounds

The NDIA should include identifiers in its dataset to assist in ascertaining participation rates of people from refugee backgrounds.

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Disability report
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