Celebrating Refugee Week – 20 years of refugee support

20/Jun/2022     HealthMater Group

Under an incredibly passionate and diverse team of nurses, GPs and refugee health consultants, the Mater Refugee Health Service has become a beacon of light for thousands of people throughout the past two decades.

“Every refugee journey is unique, however everyone with a refugee background brings a wealth of experience, knowledge, and resilience,” said Director Donata Sackey, who’s been involved with the service from its earliest days.

“The Mater Mission and Values and Catholic ethos of not leaving anyone behind, of looking after those most marginalised in our society and our commitment to making sure that nobody goes without healthcare is what resonated really strongly with me,” she said.

A collaboration between Mater, the Sisters of Mercy, St Vincent the Sisters of Charity and the Queensland Program of Assistance to Survivors of Torture and Trauma (QPASTT) led to the creation of the first refugee health clinic in 2002.

The Mater Refugee Complex Care Clinic (MRCCC) is now the longest continuous-running specialist primary health service in Australia.

MRCCC sits under Mater Refugee Health which oversees Mater’s Integrated Refugee Health Service, the Brisbane Refugee Health Advisory Group (G11). It auspices the Refugee Health Network Queensland.

“Looking back on this 20-year journey, it’s pretty incredible that Mater is still committed to the same values and the same principles.”

“It is more complex, it is more diverse, we have more partners and we have more knowledge and experience now, so we have much greater responsibility in terms of what we say and how we present ourselves.

“I’m very proud to be part of Mater and part of a team that really promotes what is fair and equitable access for everyone regardless of what language, what background and what culture you come from.”

Funded by Queensland Health (QH) and delivered by Mater, the service welcomes refugees as well as asylum seekers into primary care through an initial health assessment followed by care coordination.

“Asylum seekers may not have access to Medicare for example and face a large degree of social hardship, so our role is very much to advocate and provide support in partnership with QH, our primary health networks and community organisations and leaders.”

Australia welcomes around 18,000 refugees each year — 2,000 to 3,000 of whom will settle across five different locations in Queensland.

Mater Refugee Health has already supported more than 1,000 people this year who’ve settled in Brisbane north and Brisbane south.

“They are dealing with a different system, different language, different cultural expectations.

“Often, they’ve left loved ones behind who are still in dangerous situations.

“The focus of many new arrivals, is often on employment and being able to access services so they can support their families, in the same way each and every one of us wants to as well and that is why it is important to support access to health services and equitable heatlh care.”

Donata said building trust was critical, particularly for people who’ve survived torture and trauma throughout their refugee journey.

“The amount of joy and the amount of engagement we get from our communities is directly proportional to the amount of effort and the amount of trust building.

“I don’t think any of our health services are that unique because all health services should be compassionate and have extra time and give extra support as people come in.

“We’re just lucky at Refugee Health that we get to meet so many diverse and wonderful human beings.”

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