Australia has a long history of resettling refugees and people in humanitarian need. A range of government and non-government organisations provide services to facilitate successful settlement in Australia. While data are routinely collected on the health and welfare outcomes of the broader Australian population, there are limited data available to measure and assess the health of refugees and humanitarian entrants, which is one of the key factors critical for successful settlement.

This report aims to provide data to help address this data gap. It provides data on the health outcomes, health service use and causes of death for all humanitarian entrants who arrived in Australia from 2000 to 2020 using the Australian Bureau of Statistics' (ABS) Person-Level Integrated Data Asset (PLIDA) (previously known as Multi-Agency Data Integration Project (MADIP)). Details of the range of data sources are described in the Background and Technical notes.

Importance of investigating the health of humanitarian entrants

Good health is vital for new migrants to successfully settle and thrive in Australia. Humanitarian entrants are at risk of poor health outcomes due to exposure to trauma, challenges of the migration experience and barriers to accessing health care pre- and post-arrival.

Understanding patterns of health outcomes and health service use within the refugee and humanitarian entrant population is important to:

  • identify gaps in accessing appropriate health care
  • better address the health needs of refugees and humanitarian entrants
  • inform the design and delivery of appropriate health care and settlement services.

Significance of this report

There are limited data available on the health of humanitarian entrants in Australia. The novel use of linked administrative data in this report allows the Australian Institute of Health and Welfare (AIHW) to build an evidence base on the health of this population. This can be used to inform policy, research and health service provision.

Important information provided in this report

This report presents a wealth of invaluable data. Data are presented on health service use, medication dispensing, self-reported long-term health conditions and causes of death.

Information is provided on the health outcomes for subsets of the humanitarian population including by time since arrival in Australia and country of birth. Data reported by these disaggregations allows for the identification of unique health concerns of the different subgroups of the refugee and humanitarian population to inform the development of targeted programs and services.

Key insights from the data

Humanitarian entrants had high rates of GP attendances

Almost 9 in 10 humanitarian entrants attended a GP (general practice) at least once in 2021 and around 99% of these attendances were bulk-billed. After standardising for age, the rate of GP attendances in humanitarian entrants was 30% higher in females than it was for males.

Humanitarian entrants had a higher rate of self-reported diabetes compared with the rest of the Australian population

In 2021, when adjusted for age, 7.6% of humanitarian entrants reported living with diabetes, type 1 or type 2. This rate was 1.8 times as high as the rest of the Australian population (4.3%). Among the humanitarian population, diabetes was more common in older age groups and females whereas for other permanent migrants and the rest of the Australian population diabetes was more common in older age groups and males.

Humanitarian entrants had higher rates of certain causes of death

The leading cause of death in humanitarian entrants was cerebrovascular disease in females and coronary heart disease in males. Deaths due to accidental drowning and submersion, and liver cancer had higher mortality rates in the humanitarian population than other permanent migrants and the rest of the Australian population.

Mental health outcomes were less common among humanitarian entrants compared with the rest of the Australian Population and more common in female humanitarian entrants

After standardising for age, self-reported mental health conditions were 50% lower for humanitarian entrants than the rest of the Australian population. Rates of antidepressant prescriptions and GP mental health management plans were also lower for humanitarian entrants than the rest of the Australian population (48% lower and 35% lower, respectively).

For humanitarian entrants, females were more likely than males to report these mental health outcomes. A similar gender disparity in mental health outcomes was seen in the rest of the Australian population.

Note: Humanitarian entrants may access mental health care through other pathways and the data presented does not include information on the overall use of mental health services. Additionally, GPs may provide mental health care under general consultation items which may further underestimate the total use of mental health services. For more information, see GP mental health treatment plans.

What’s next?

This web report is the initial stage of the AIHW’s Refugee and humanitarian entrant health project funded by the Department of Home Affairs. Further data including linkage of data from the Department of Home Affairs’ Settlement Database with hospital admissions, emergency department presentations and specialist homelessness services will be released in 2024. See What’s next? for further information.

For information on this project see Refugee and humanitarian entrant health.