Australian Human Rights Commission



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6Support services

    Assistance to new arrivals can be delivered by generalist services and refugee or ethno-specific services. Services that cater specifically for African communities can have a cultural, social, political, economic or religious focus. They can also focus on different types of service provision, such as advocacy, referral, information, settlement or self- and community-development. To be effective, these services must address issues of client satisfaction and feedback on the quality and quantity of assistance available, as well as issues around access to services.

    Generalist refugee support services do not always recognise the significant differences that exist among and between refugee communities (eg, socio-economic status, tribe, clan, religion, political view, language, culture and age) and the fact that they may only share in common their well-founded fear of persecution.30 Many services also fail to properly recognise the centrality of family and gender division within African cultures.31 This can lead to services not prioritising the opinion of community leaders or family heads. In addition, generalist services often do not have the necessary expertise or knowledge to adequately address the needs of African or refugee communities. Services catering to these communities must be “intensive, holistic and flexible”.32

    Upon arrival in Australia refugees qualify for the following services:


  • Initial Information Orientation and Assistance (IIOA), which includes reception and orientation, meeting immediate/emergency needs

  • Accommodation Support (AS), which includes one month’s accommodation and assistance to find permanent accommodation
  • Housing Formation Support (HFS), which includes material goods to start a ‘modern’ home


  • Early Health Assessment and Intervention (EHAI), which includes physical, psychological and psychosocial assessments.

    There exists an entire sector of services available to refugees, however it is unclear to what extent these services being utilised by and benefitting new arrivals. Greater coordination between service providers and the various government agencies involved is needed to reduce the complexity of the system and make it more accessible for new arrivals. Furthermore, government services alone are not enough to provide the holistic support that most refugees require. They must be paired with community responses in order to properly address the myriad needs of individuals and communities.33

7Common barriers to using services and understanding systems

7.1Adjusting to a different way of life

    African Australian communities with refugee backgrounds have reported that mainstream service providers are often not aware that daily life in Australia differs in significant ways from life in their home country. Furthermore, families do not have the extended network that they would normally rely on to help them understand and navigate their new environment.34

    A number of general skills needed to go about daily life in this country, which many Australians would assume to be universal, are unfamiliar to many Africans, especially those from rural areas.

    Service providers sometimes overlook the fact that migrants from different cultural backgrounds may not immediately know “which foods are healthy, which need to be stored in the fridge, how to clean Western-style homes, use household appliances, or cross the road in high traffic areas.”35

    In addition, the idea of making an appointment to access a service can be unfamiliar for some clients.36

7.2Impacts of mismatched services offered and services accessed


    In their first six months in Australia, refugees are offered a number of services under the Intensive Humanitarian Support Service (IHSS):

  • case coordination, information and referrals, which includes a case coordination plan based on an initial needs assessment; information about, and referral to, other service providers and mainstream agencies; and help for proposers of SHP entrants to fulfil their role

  • on-arrival reception and assistance, which includes meeting entrants on arrival; taking them to suitable accommodation; providing an initial orientation; and meeting any emergency needs for medical attention, clothing or footwear

  • accommodation services, to help entrants find appropriate and affordable accommodation and provide them with basic household goods

  • short-term torture and trauma counselling services, which includes an assessment of needs; a case plan and referral for counselling services; and information for other health care providers about associated health issues.

    After an individual’s eligibility for IHSS expires, humanitarian entrants can access less intensive specialist settlement services for a further four years through the Special Grants Program and the Community Service Scheme.37

    However, services offered and services used do not always match up. The barriers that sub-Saharan African refugees face in accessing these services are related to their socio-economic status, help-seeking behaviours, social factors and a lack of trust in the confidentiality and respectfulness of services and service providers.38 Not knowing where to go for services, as well as not understanding how to access services and the steps involved in making and keeping an appointment, can also impede their ability to access available services. Two thirds of refugees reported having unmet needs in the first six months after arrival39 and the abrupt withdrawal of services after six months left many feeling “disoriented and vulnerable”, with feelings of “great anxiety and fear” about how to proceed without formal support.40

    Most refugees reported receiving little or no information on Australia before arrival.41 Furthermore, service providers in Australia may not be aware of what information refugees are given before they arrive. If refugees are not offered or able to access services they have been led to believe are available to them, it can create significant frustration and a mistrust of service providers42.




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