By Maya Pilbrow
25 November 2022
Refugees have taken a backseat in the Victorian election campaign, but that does not mean the issues facing them are not serious and ongoing, experts say.
Shabnam Safa, chairperson at the National Refugee-led Advisory and Advocacy Group and former Hazara refugee from Afghanistan said that refugee communities in Victoria had been extremely vulnerable over the past two years.
While federal policy dictates refugee intake, state governments are responsible for providing services to help refugees and asylum seekers settle into their new communities.
According to the Victorian Department of Health, Victoria receives more refugees and asylum seekers than any other state or territory. Specialised health and community care services for refugees and asylum seekers are funded by the department including basic needs and homelessness assistance and mental health support.
However, issues directly impacting refugee communities have not formed a major part of campaign platforms for Labor or the Coalition.
Both Daniel Andrews and Matthew Guy have focused on health, infrastructure and the economy, policy proposals that certainly affect but are not solely aimed at refugee and migrant communities.
While the Greens policy plans include detailed provisions for migrant and refugee women, none of the major party campaigns focuses heavily on refugee policy.
Ms Safa said there was a need for more direct and meaningful engagement with refugee communities in order to adequately provide services to suit the specific needs of people with refugee and migrant backgrounds.
She said that diversity and multiculturalism required a deep understanding of how individual communities work.
“We should understand how complex diversity is, that each community might require their own tailored programmes or services,” Ms Safa said.
According to the Victorian Multicultural Commission, multicultural communities face unique and complex challenges in supporting their health and wellbeing and are at greater risk of poorer health outcomes.
The Right Reverend Philip Huggins said that health services and housing were pressing issues among refugee communities.
He said that while these issues have not been frequently discussed during the election campaign, he was hopeful that compassionate treatment of refugees would prove to be bipartisan.
“There’s a general consensus of what people need if they’re going to settle happily and harmoniously and flourish in multicultural, multifaith Australia,” Bishop Huggins said.