Refugee Council of Australia
Large cardboard Welcome refugees sign in protest

State of the Nation 2017: Refugees and people seeking asylum in Australia

Peope with a disability

People with a disability and other health issues

A recent change to Australian’s resettlement program is the welcome and long fought for recognition to include people with disabilities and other health concerns in resettlement places. Disappointingly, the change has yet to be adequately resourced and supported. Many people with disabilities have to wait too long to receive the equipment and health services needed. As one service provider from Victoria noted:

The process at the moment is that once they come in, you send them to the refugee health GP or you can refer to the local council occupational therapist. It’s usually three months or so for them to … make an assessment. And then … they put in an application for a wheelchair (or whatever it might be), that takes approximately a year, sometimes a year and a half… there’s no accelerated pathway for those … who are without equipment.

— Service provider, Victoria

Settlement service providers are often not told beforehand that people will need help, or that they need to find appropriate housing:

We have clients who are getting off the plane and need a wheelchair and we don’t know that they need a wheelchair. They’re met at the airport and having to carry family members on their back and that kind of thing. …

— Service provider

We had a client recently, for the first 14 months in Australia, they weren’t able to have a shower. That kind of situation’s not really acceptable.

— Service provider

There are also times where doctors and disability services turn clients away as they do not have the knowledge or support to work with people with limited English language or from refugee backgrounds. People who have just arrived are not able to navigate through the often complex Australian medical system. especially with often limited language. This problem will be made harder with the introduction of the National Disability Insurance Scheme, which is designed to be driven by the consumer, which assumes the consumer has the capacity to navigate the system. Service providers are not funded to help in filling out the complex referral forms for the Scheme (which can take up to 50 hours). Reports state that it can even take two weeks just to receive the form. The process so far has discouraged many from even trying.

People on temporary visas do not qualify for the National Disability Insurance Scheme. This is especially problematic as, given the effects of torture and trauma and the negative impacts on mental health of Australia’s asylum policies, it is exactly this cohort of people who are more likely to have disability issues.

Join the Movement

We need you to show our government that Australia cares about refugees. Help us by joining the movement so we can protect refugees, not punish them.


  • Category

  • Topic