Refugee Council of Australia
Young boy with hearing aid sitting with family

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

A human-rights based approach to supporting refugees with disability

People with a disability from a refugee background have rights not only under general human rights law, but are also protected under the Refugee Convention and the CRPD. Newly arrived refugees with a disability are entitled to full and equal participation in Australia, not just equal to other people with a disability, but ultimately in line with the whole community. Therefore, the gaps identified below represent a significant failing of Australia’s responsibility under both the Refugee Convention and the CRPD, as well as the Australian Government’s commitment to access and equity. Without adequate support, refugees with a disability will remain excluded from Australian society, representing a failure of both settlement services and disability services.

Domestically, the National Disability Strategy (NDS) is Australia’s key national policy framework for protecting, promoting and fulfilling the human rights of people with a disability. All Australian governments have agreed that the NDS is the mechanism to implement the CRPD and to report to the United Nations against progress in achieving the CRPD. The NDS lists priority areas of action to ensure people with a disability, including people with a disability from refugee backgrounds, socially and economically participate in Australian society on an equal basis with others. However, national Disabled People’s Organisations (DPOs) and disability advocacy organisations have raised serious concerns that the NDS, in its current form, is not obtaining the outcomes it was designed to deliver.

In 2017, the Senate Community Affairs References Committee held an inquiry into the outcomes of the NDS and found the strategy to be “severely lacking in mechanisms for accountability and evaluation”. The inquiry made seven key recommendations to improve the effectiveness of the NDS, including the development of a central coordinating ‘Office for Disability’ to help Australia meet domestic and international reporting obligations. People with a disability, particularly newly arrived refugees with disability, would benefit from a robust, effective and nationally consistent NDS.


Department of Social Services, National Disability Strategy 2010-2020.

T. Sands, ‘Disabled People’s Organisations Australia (DPO Australia) Submission to the Senate Community Affairs References Committee Inquiry into the delivery of outcomes under the National Disability Strategy 2010-2010 (NDS) to build inclusive and accessible communities, Disabled People’s Organisations Australia (2017).

Senate Community Affairs Reference Committee, Commonwealth of Australia, ‘Delivery of outcomes under the National Disability Strategy 2010-2020 to build inclusive and accessible communities’ (2017), 4.43.

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