Department of Health

Refugee and asylum seeker health and wellbeing

Key messages

  • Around 4,000 refugees settle in Victoria each year through the Humanitarian Programme.
  • Another 10,000 people who arrived as asylum seekers live in the Victorian community on bridging visas while they wait for the determination of their refugee status.
  • Victoria typically has the largest refugee intake and highest numbers of asylum seekers in Australia.
  • Victoria’s new arrivals may have complex and chronic physical and mental health conditions. The Department of Health and Human Services works closely with the Victorian Refugee Health Network to help the Victorian health and human services sector support the health and wellbeing of people who arrived in Victoria as refugees or asylum seekers.
  • There are also links here to related sites that provide more information about relevant services.

Free medical services for displaced Ukrainian nationals in Victoria without Medicare

Victorian Government funded health services will provide full medical care to displaced Ukrainians without Medicare. For further information see Displaced Ukrainian nationals in Victoria without Medicare – interim guidance.

Support for people seeking asylum

The Victorian Government has committed a further $4 million in 2022-23 to continue addressing asylum seeker destitution. The funds maintain the crisis capacity of specialist asylum seeker programs. For further information see the below factsheet

Victorian Government package for people seeking asylum

The Victorian Government has announced a package of urgent support for asylum seekers transferred from Nauru and Manus Island for medical treatment who are no longer be eligible for Commonwealth-funded income support, accommodation, casework support and torture and trauma counselling. Information about the provision of services during this period is available in a factsheet for health and human services.

Fact sheet for sector partners on refugee and asylum seeker settlement for settlement

The department has developed a fact sheet to assist sector partners with service planning and to support consistent communication of key messages.

Refugee and asylum seeker settlement in Victoria - FAQ for key services and sector partners - August 2016

Refugee and asylum seekers health and wellbeing

Victoria currently receives around one-third of all refugees and asylum seekers entering Australia, more than any other state or territory. Currently, around 4,000 refugees settle in Victoria each year. Another 10,000 or so asylum seekers live in the Victorian community on bridging visas while they wait for the determination of their refugee status.

Many refugees and asylum seekers have multiple and complex physical and psychological health issues, resulting from trauma and torture, deprivation and prolonged poverty, periods in immigration detention, and poor access to healthcare.

However, we can help people address many health problems early in their settlement. Refugees and asylum seekers are more likely to settle successfully – including actively participating in family, schooling, working and community life – when their health and wellbeing improve.

The Department of Health and Human Services works closely in partnership with the Victorian Refugee Health Network. Together, we identify and respond to emerging issues in refugee and asylum seeker health across Victoria’s health and human services sector.

Specialised services for refugees and asylum seekers

The Department of Health and Human Services funds general and specialist refugee health and community care services.

Community Health Refugee Health Program

The Refugee Health Program (formerly the Refugee Health Nurse Program) operates in areas with high numbers of newly arrived refugees and/or asylum seekers. The program is delivered by nurses, allied health professionals, interpreters and bicultural workers.

In particular, refugee health nurses conduct initial health screening, facilitate access to general practice and specialist healthcare, and provide case management, education and nursing care. They also refer clients to other support services, such as housing and employment services.

Refugee Health Fellows Program

The Refugee Health Fellows Program supports specialist positions at The Royal Children's and The Royal Melbourne hospitals and Monash Health (Dandenong). It aims to coordinate primary and tertiary healthcare for refugees, and coordinate metropolitan and regional services.

The fellows help health services and practitioners in outer metropolitan, rural and regional Victoria to support newly arrived refugee populations.

Hospital and outreach immigrant and refugee health clinics

The Immigrant Health Service at The Royal Children’s Hospital and The Royal Melbourne Hospital’s Victorian Infectious Disease Service host the Refugee Health Fellows. These clinics provide outpatient clinic services for health issues such as hepatitis B, tuberculosis and parasite screening, vitamin D deficiency and nutrition, and immunisation. They are also hubs for research, policy development, education and training in refugee health.

There are also local clinics in Dandenong, Geelong, Shepparton, Brimbank and Wyndham. The Refugee Health Fellows, other outreach specialists, refugee health nurses and general practitioners support the clinics.

There is also now a new Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health HubExternal Link operating in Brunswick.

Torture and trauma counselling

The Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (Foundation House) provides torture and trauma counselling. It is a national leader in refugee healthcare, especially mental health, health promotion, and family and community strengthening.

Foundation House works to improve the skills and competency of health care services that treat and care for refugees. It receives direct referral for both adults and children who have experienced torture, persecution or war-related trauma before arriving in Australia.

Multicultural Health and Support Service (MHSS)

The Multicultural Health and Support Service (MHSS) is a program of the Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health. It provides education, information and support on issues of sexual health, HIV/AIDS and blood-borne viruses. The service works with migrant and refugee communities, as well as health service providers.

Language services credit line

The Department of Health & Human Services funds the language services credit line, which provides access to telephone interpreting, on-site interpreting and translation for eligible services funded by the department. The Victorian Translation and Interpreting Service is the current provider.

Health translations directory

The Health Translations Directory is an online portal for health professionals and the wider community to access multilingual health resources. It aims to support the needs of culturally and linguistically diverse communities by providing the high-quality translated health information needed to make informed health and lifestyle choices.

It is currently linked to more than 10,000 resources in 90 languages and attracts more than 30,000 unique visitors per year. Searches can be made by language or topic.

Organisations or departmental programs that produce materials in languages other than English for online publication should link their resource to the Health Translation Directory. Editorial Guidelines and a Collection Policy are available to ensure the quality and currency of the information on the Directory. There is no cost to either register or access resources.

Access arrangements for asylum seekers

Asylum seekers have special access arrangements for some health and human services such as hospitals, community health services and dental services. View information about arrangements for asylum seekers in the Victorian community and arrangements for people living in community detention in the Current Guide to Asylum Seeker Access to Health and Community Services in Victoria and the Guidelines for Victorian public health services on community detention.

Professional development

The department funds and promotes capacity building in refugee and asylum seeker health for the Victorian health and human services sector.

Victorian Refugee Health Network

The Victorian Refugee Health Network works on a diverse range of projects every year. It supports the health, settlement and community sector by convening working groups, developing resources, hosting forums, completing reviews of available literature, providing specialist advice and participating in practice-related research projects.

Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health

The Centre for Culture, Ethnicity and Health provides information and resources related to the health needs of CALD clients and communities. Fact sheets, training modules and other information are available to download from the centre’s website.

Victorian Transcultural Mental Health

Victorian Transcultural Mental Health (VTMH) is a statewide unit administered by St Vincent's Hospital. It works with the mental health sector to integrate skills and practices to address inequality in mental health service provision. As a non-clinical unit with a focus on service development and mental health systems improvement, VTMH implements key national and state mental health diversity policies and priorities.

Professional development opportunities in refugee health

A number of department funded organisations offer professional development on issues related to refugee health. Some of these organisations are listed on the Victorian Refugee Health Network website.

Online modules in refugee health

Online training modules in refugee and asylum seeker health are outlined on the Victorian Refugee Health Network website.

Key resources

Refugee health guides

The Victorian Refugee Health Network at Foundation House, along with partners in the Forum of Australian Services for Survivors of Torture and Trauma (FASSTT), has produced a national resource on refugee health. The resource is called Promoting Refugee Health. It is accompanied by a state-specific desktop guide called Caring for refugee patients in general practice: a desktop guide. Please refer to the Victorian Refugee Health Network site.

These two guides are based on best practice research and expert collaboration.

Asylum seeker specific resources

The Victorian Refugee Health Network provides resources that address key issues with asylum seeker health care. These resources include an Asylum seeker information sheet for Victorian health services, information on Medicare renewal for asylum seekers, information on asylum seeker identification and Pharmaceuticals for people who are asylum seekers.

Victorian Refugee Health Network e-bulletin

The Victorian Refugee Health Network publishes a monthly e-bulletin that provides updates on professional development opportunities, events, research and publications from the refugee health sector in Australia and overseas.

Key publications by Victorian Refugee Health Network members

Other sector-based publications can be found on the Victorian Refugee Health Network website.

  • The Refugee Minor Program provides direct services to young unaccompanied clients from refugee backgrounds. It aims to help them (and their relatives or carers) develop key settlement competencies. The program also establishes and maintains partnerships with other key agencies in the community.
  • AMES Settlement Services is the lead partner of the Humanitarian Settlement Services Consortium. AMES also provides case management services, accommodation services, local area coordination and the volunteer program to newly arrived clients.
  • The Commonwealth Department of Immigration and Border Protection provides information on Australian visas, immigration, citizenship and the asylum seeker policy, including policy updates.
  • The Commonwealth Department of Social Services provides information and support for refugee and humanitarian entrants, including financial assistance, the Adult Migrant English Program, the Refugee Servicing Network and other health supports.
  • The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is Australia’s largest asylum seeker advocacy, aid and health organisation. It promotes and protects the human rights of asylum seekers.
  • The Centre for Multicultural Youth provides information on the experiences and challenges of young migrants, and of young people of refugee background in Australia.

Refugee and asylum seeker health action plan

The Victorian refugee and asylum seeker health action plan 2014-18 is not current, but is being made available in the downloads section for references purposes only. It provides useful information on refugee and asylum seekers and the department’s health and human services response across Victoria.

Reviewed 12 April 2023


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