By Rachelle Coe & Nicole…
Forced displacement is not a simple process. The United Nations Higher Commissioner for Refugees (2022) reported that global forced displacement recently surpassed 84 million, with individuals compelled to leave their homelands mainly due to war, violence, and conflict.
Displaced people face psychological complications as a result of their traumatic lived experiences, either from traumatic experiences in their country of origin or as a result of the hazardous journey or a combination of both (Davaki, 2022, pp. 32-33). UNHCR estimated that out of the forcibly displaced persons population, over 10 million have a disability (UNHCR, 2019; Women’s Refugee Commission, 2019). Importantly, children cover half of the displaced population around the globe (UNHCR, 2022) and based on the given statistics, displaced children with disabilities potentially compose a sizeable proportion of forcibly displaced people with a disability. However, there are no precise statistics pertaining to the exact issue, types of specific complications or duration of disability. Nor is there data around access to affordable, accessible services for these children in bridging or host countries.
Several researchers indicated that limited studies investigated the resettlement experiences and needs of displaced families with a family member, particularly children with disabilities in the respective host countries, and the role of service providers (Roberts & Harris, 2002; Ward et al., 2008; Mirza, 2011; Flanagan, 2015; King et al., 2016).
Displaced families with children with disabilities face numerous barriers when seeking support, particularly the inexperience of service providers in supporting children with these complex needs. On the one hand, few service providers for displaced families with children with disabilities have experience working with diaspora communities, including asylum seekers. On the other, service providers working with asylum seekers have little experience working with children with disabilities from a displaced background (Bešić & Hochgatterer, 2020). Therefore, lack of cultural and contextual sensitivity in addition to other settlement challenges including language and communication barriers, lack of social networks and support, parents’ ongoing mental health issues as trauma survivors, financial hardships, lack of knowledge about rights and information about available services and various other factors contribute to the complexity of providing adequate care to these families (Torlinska et al.,2020; Steigmann, 2020, Cheyne-Hazineh, 2020; Ziersch et al., 2020).
Australia has a long history of accepting refugees for resettlement and since 2012 has increasingly granted people with disability humanitarian visas. However, some of the strictest rules and regulations were implemented in recent years for those arriving by boat and seeking asylum in Australia despite the often very complex rationales and limited options available for those fleeing the homelands (Phillips, 2015). Asylum seekers who entered Australia by boat after 2012 have received Temporary Protection Visas (TPV), limiting their access to health and social services. With the issuance of a TPV however, being granted a 3–5 years visa may ease the immediate pain of unsafety for the family members; it is not providing children with their right to adequate health and disability care. Displaced children with disabilities on TPVs (including 790-subclass) even despite being born in Australia are similarly not eligible for full access to social services, NDIS and government-funded programs. For instance, a child (0-7 years old) with developmental disorders (e.g., autism disorder), as well as their family, require ongoing social and support services. However, only a few, non-universal, short-term programs have been provided and access to these programs is dependent on other factors such as the availability of services in the area.
Similarly, not all TPV holders have access to Medicare services, even though Medicare provides some support, these services are not bulk-billed. This unaddressed plight of displaced families with children with disabilities gets underestimated even though most caregivers are mentally, physically, and financially exhausted, particularly in the COVID-19 pandemic period. This situation becomes more challenging for single parents and families with caregivers with disabilities or few children with disabilities while they are in the limbo of their future visas’ status.
It is essential to note various practical solutions in addressing the current shortcomings.
TPV holder families with children with disabilities require Australia’s permanent protection to access high quality ongoing services through the NDIS and other funded programs like other children with disabilities. The cumulative trauma they have endured has shaped their unique psychological needs as individuals, and having children with disabilities makes the situation far more complicated. Accessing disability services is challenging as it requires the applicants to have a view of disability that is consistent with the legalisation. Support is required to enable access to services and supports.
There is also a need to provide adequate support for families to access culturally sensitive mental health services, disability services and support groups with easy access to interpreters. Such services are currently only available through registered NDIS providers and NDIS users and services are not always aware of these processes.
The establishment of specialist services at the intersection of relocation and disability is required to provide culturally sensitive funded programs to displaced families with children with disabilities on TPVs. Displaced children with progressive or developmental complications need assessment of disabilities and/or health issues in addition to ongoing therapy sessions, support for daily living or assistive technology. Displaced children with disabilities on TPVs would also benefit from programs that indirectly benefit families through coordinated and collaborative care.