A father holds his young child as medical staff listen to the childs chest
A Syrian father watches as Turkish medical staff examine his child who has developed breathing difficulties. © UNHCR/ A.Branthwaite

supporting refugees


An experience of war, conflict and damage to infrastructure in a refugee's home country often means that people have lacked access to basic health services. Access to medical assistance or primary health care facilities during the refugee journey or in the country of first asylum is often also limited. Safe drinking water and nutritious food are not always available.

This means that many refugee children and their families have had little if any medical attention before settling in Australia. In Australia, refugee families can be unaware of the types of primary and preventative health care programs in place, such as:

  • maternal health
  • immunisations
  • oral health
  • good nutrition and healthy lifestyles
  • physical health
  • mental health.

There may be problems accessing the services in Australia due to language or cultural barriers. Without knowledge of the health care system many refugees do not always prioritise their health needs.

Many refugees continue to struggle with grief and anxiety from separation of loved ones. They may suffer trauma from torture or conflict, or guilt from having left friends and family behind in conflict zones. Settling into a new country requires enormous periods of adjustment, particularly if/ when the relocation was unplanned.

Good health is an essential part of successful settlement. There is a coordinated effort among refugee support services to ensure that refugee health is prioritised as soon as possible following arrival in Australia - in order for people to have the best chance possible of a healthy future.

Practitioners have identified that there should be a focus on:

  • ensuring that refugee families are screened and immunized early
  • a greater need for coordination between and among government providers and health care professionals
  • a need for interpreting services
  • cultural sensitivity in health services.

Many schools now work in partnership with community organisations to provide breakfast clubs for refugee students. Some schools have created linkages with private funding bodies to promote health partnerships.

More information

The NSW Refugee Health Service assists both refugee families and health practitioners. The NSW Refugee Health Service provides free health assessment for recently arrived refugees through clinics run by a medical practitioner, nurse and with professional health care interpreters. There are also refugee paediatric clinics at Liverpool, Westmead and Sydney Children's hospitals. The Health Assessment for Refugee Kids (HARK) clinic is located at Westmead Hospital.

Victorian Refugee Health Network is an excellent online resource for both refugees and practitioners.

Foundation House in Victoria also provides extensive publications and resources to promote refugee health.

NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Trauma and Torture Survivors (STARTTS) provides mental health programs and support.

Settlement Services International (SSI) is delivering orientation programs specifically catering for young people and women's health issues.

The Fairfield/ Liverpool Youth Health Team (FLYHT) operates a local Health Clinic. It offers free comprehensive medical and psychological assessment, counselling, treatment and referral for newly arrived refugees aged 12 to 24 years old who are settling in South West Sydney. This is a particularly important service for unaccompanied minors.