From fleeing persecution to fleeing the black dog, Victorian government bolsters refugee health support services

Aref Ramazani (left) with his family. Source: SBS

Refugees and asylum seekers are set to benefit from enhanced health services in Victoria after the state government announced extra funding for health and wellbeing programs.

The $11 million in funding was allocated in response to the arrival of a growing number of Syrian and Iraqi refugees like 22-year-old Aref Ramazani, who was diagnosed with depression while attending high school in Melbourne.

"I was not motivated. I would lose hope every day and I was just not passionate about my studies anymore," the Hazara refugee said, "That's when I went back to the doctor, and he referred me to a specialist."

The trauma of fleeing Afghanistan, combined with the stress of his family's detention on Christmas Island and the challenges of adapting to life in Australia, had contributed to his ill health.

"I listened to my doctor's advice and followed his instructions and after six months, I was back to my old self.

"I've learnt that tough times don't last, depression is just temporary, and you can overcome that by asking for treatment and seeking help," he said.

Mental health programs like the one Aref undertook were among the suite of services announced by Victorian Health Minister Jill Hennessey on Tuesday.

"Some of this money will go to things like investing in refugee-health nurses that will provide community outreach. Some of this money will also go to the establishment of a paediatric refugee-health specialist," Ms Hennessy said.

The package also includes a new catch-up immunisation program and paid 12-week internships for refugees and asylum seekers with the Department of Health and Human Services.

Michael Combs, founder of CareerSeekers, a non-profit organisation creating private-sector opportunities for asylum seekers and refugees seeking professional employment, said the internships were an important component of mental health.

"Because they get people active, they get people looking forward to something. They give people hope that they're going to earn a wage, that they're going to get back into their professions," he said.

The Victorian government funding announcement is in addition to the $44 million to be allocated over four years that has already been committed to health services for refugees and asylum seekers.

The Victorian government expects to settle an additional 4,000 Syrian and Iraqi refugees on top of the 4,000 refugees they already resettle annually.

While Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture chief executive Paris Aristotle welcomed the additional funds, he said extra health services would not be enough.

He said the rates of suicide and self-harm among asylum seekers living in the community were rising due to the persistent insecurity they feel.

"We can't deal with that unless the policy parameters allow for people to be processed more quickly and fairly. But, also, at the end of that, if they're found to be refugees, to be able to know that they can live here permanently and that they will be able to be reunited with families," Mr Aristotle said.


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