Refugees and asylum seekers

Improving health outcomes for refugees and asylum seekers is among our key priorities. Our region includes areas that have some of the highest settlement of refugees and asylum seekers in Victoria.

Portrait of a young refugee girl.Refugees and asylum seekers may be highly vulnerable, and often have complex health needs. We want this community to easily access high-quality primary health care.

Our work

Our aim is to support health care providers to identify this community, understand its needs, and provide timely, culturally appropriate, evidence-based health care.

What is the difference between a refugee and an asylum seeker?

According to Amnesty International:

A refugee is a person who has fled their country of origin and is unable or unwilling to return because of a well-founded fear of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.

An asylum seeker is an individual who is seeking international protection. In countries with individualised procedures, an asylum seeker is someone whose claim has not yet been finally decided on by the country in which he or she has submitted it. Not every asylum seeker will ultimately be recognised as a refugee, but every refugee is initially an asylum seeker.

Access to health care for refugees and asylum seekers

The system for refugees and asylum seekers can be very complex. Read more in our service mapping document.

Rights and eligibility for refugees

All refugees have work rights, and access to Medicare. They can therefore be seen by any general practice. Their health care can be billed, like any other patient, under Medicare. They will likely have had support to register with Medicare and get a Medicare card.

Rights and eligibility for asylum seekers

Depending on the mode and date of arrival to Australia, the experiences and living arrangements of asylum seekers will vary. So, too, the services for which they may be eligible. There are currently about 10,000 asylum seekers living in the community in Victoria. For more information, see the Victorian Refugee Health Network’s Asylum Seeker Health Information Sheet.

  • Asylum seekers in a detention centre

    Visa status: To be determined
    Work rights: No
    Access to health care: Not Medicare eligible; health care is funded and arranged by International Health and Medical Services (IHMS); can access public hospitals
    Access to Health Care Card: Not eligible
    Housing: Provided
    Access to education: Only up to 18 years old
    Access to legal support and casework: No legal support; can receive case management support from welfare agencies

  • Asylum seekers in community detention

    Visa status: To be determined
    Work rights: No
    Access to health care: Not Medicare eligible; health care is funded and arranged by International Health and Medical Services (IHMS); GPs can apply to IHMS to be a service provider; can access public hospitals
    Access to Health Care Card: Not eligible
    Housing: Provided
    Access to education: Only up to 18 years old
    Access to legal support and casework: No legal support; can receive case management support from welfare agencies

  • Asylum seekers on a bridging visa

    Eligibility for work and Medicare will vary according to the mode of arrival. For those arriving by air, it will also depend on the visa held before applying for asylum. The general rule is that if someone has work rights they will have Medicare, but this is not always the case.

    Visa status: On a bridging visa* (temporary) until further determination
    Work rights: Most have work rights as of 2015
    Access to health care: Most people will be Medicare eligible and access health care like all other Medicare-eligible patients.

    * Note that bridging visas are short-term and when visas expire, Medicare cards also expire. There may be periods when an asylum seeker has an expired Medicare card due to administrative delays. People without the right to work will often not have access to Medicare. Asylum seekers without Medicare may access state-funded health services. Asylum seeker health clinics offer limited pro-bono general practice services. For more information, visit the Victorian Refugee Health Network website.

    Access to Health Care Card: Not eligible
    Housing: Not provided; some short-term support to find private rental housing provided
    Access to education: Only up to 18 years old
    Access to legal support and casework: Six weeks case work – very limited

Australian Refugee Health Practice Guide

This guide is available online at refugeehealthguide.org.au and can be used by doctors, nurses and other primary care providers to inform on-arrival and ongoing health care for people from refugee backgrounds, including those seeking asylum.

We can distribute printed copies of the guide to general practices in our region. To register your interest, email primarycare@nwmphn.org.au

CAREinMIND™ for refugees and asylum seekers

Refugees and asylum seekers, who may receive low/no income, are eligible for CAREinMIND’s free short-term psychological counselling services.

Note that a Medicare card is not required. This makes the service useful for those asylum seekers who are ineligible for Medicare. For more information, and referral information and forms, see the CAREinMIND page.

A small number of counselling staff may speak the same language as the refugee or asylum seeker client, though in some cases, an interpreter will be needed. Counsellors can arrange interpreters when needed.