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‘Forgotten’ Refugees With Disability Waiting Months for Basic Services


Friday, 22nd February 2019 at 4:35 pm
Luke Michael, Journalist
A woman arrives in Australia. She is a refugee. She has a disability. She discovers there is no suitable home for her to stay. Instead, she and her family are placed in short-term accommodation without facilities to support her basic needs. They are forced to take desperate measures.


Friday, 22nd February 2019
at 4:35 pm
Luke Michael, Journalist


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‘Forgotten’ Refugees With Disability Waiting Months for Basic Services
Friday, 22nd February 2019 at 4:35 pm

A woman arrives in Australia. She is a refugee. She has a disability. She discovers there is no suitable home for her to stay. Instead, she and her family are placed in short-term accommodation without facilities to support her basic needs. They are forced to take desperate measures.

Each time the woman needs to shower, her husband carries her to a taxi that goes to the local sports and aquatic centre. There, he pays for the taxi, pays the centre’s entry fee and carries her into the disabled shower. After showering her, the husband pays for another taxi to take them home. This goes on for a year.

It is just one of many stories uncovered in a report released this week by a coalition of refugee groups.  

Current evidence suggests that refugees with disability are often forgotten or invisible during crises of human displacement.

Arriving in a new country as a refugee is a major challenge. Arriving as a refugee with a disability compounds that challenge significantly.  

According to the report refugees with disability faced significant barriers upon their arrival in Australia, including problems accessing timely support, essential equipment, or suitable housing.

Consultations with providers and people affected revealed that services were often not notified when arriving refugees had a disability, leading to cases where families would turn up “carrying someone because no one was told that they need a wheelchair”.

One provider said current processes meant refugees were waiting up to three months just to receive assessments from a GP.

“Then when they come and make an assessment they put in an application for a wheelchair, that takes approximately a year, sometimes a year and a half,” the provider said.

Another noted that one refugee was not able to have a shower for their first 14 months in Australia.  

The report said while some settlement services provided excellent support in assisting people into housing, there appeared to be no requirement for services to demonstrate an understanding of what “disability-friendly”  housing was.

This meant some refugees with disability were not even able to enter their short-term accommodation because there were stairs to get in.

“They can’t use the toilet because a lot of toilets in Australia are those little narrow ones and if they need help to get in, there’s no support for them. They end up going to the toilet outside,” a provider said.

Asher Hirsch, a senior policy officer at Refugee Council of Australia – one of the groups behind the report – told Pro Bono News these problems were unfortunately quite common.

“Because they don’t get a priority access to the services and specialist providers, they are going to the regular state-based services and therefore facing these extensive delays,” Hirsch said.        

“Unlike Australians with a disability who are assessed throughout their lives… refugees who arrive with a disability often do not get the equipment or support they need, leading to these horrible examples of people falling through the cracks.”

Hirsch said urgent change was needed, starting with giving refugees priority access to disability support systems and professional medical advice and assessments.

“When a refugee arrives in Australia they need priority access to the support they need, whether that’s specialist services to assess their needs, or access to equipment as soon as possible,” he said.

“What’s also needed is additional funding for support services that help refugees to apply for disability services and navigate the complex system.”

Researchers noted that due to their experiences of conflict, torture and displacement, refugees were more likely to have a disability than other people.

Statistics on the number of refugees with a disability are difficult to obtain. Figures show in 2015-16, 238 (1.4 per cent) of the 17,555 people who resettled through Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program received a health waiver – but it is not possible to know the health or disability related factors underpinning these waivers.

While legislation in recent years has resulted in an increase in the number of refugees with disability coming to Australia, the report said this had not been matched with appropriate funding and policies to support their resettlement and inclusion in Australian society.

The report made 14 recommendations to remove the barriers for refugees, including ensuring accurate information transfers between services, giving funding for immediate access to disability support aids, and providing appropriate housing for people arriving with a disability.

It also called for greater support to help refugees use the National Disability Insurance Scheme effectively, after researchers noted a lack of translating and interpreting services within the NDIS.

This echoes findings from another recent report which said culturally diverse people with disability were struggling to engage with NDIS.

National Ethnic Disability Alliance CEO, Dwayne Cranfield, said the issues outlined in this report were tantamount to discrimination against an already marginalised and vulnerable group.

“We hope that policy makers will understand the importance of this issue and take appropriate action based on these recommendations,” Cranfield said.

The full report – from RCOA, NEDA, the Federation of Ethnic Communities’ Councils of Australia and the Settlement Council of Australia – can be seen here.


Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.


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