How western Sydney is understanding the health needs of our newest Australians – Refugee Week 2021

African community member Yaw Derkyi.

Since 2010, over 11,800 refugees and humanitarian entrants have settled in western Sydney – bringing their stories, cultures, shared experiences, and dreams with them.

With the arrival of the newest Australians, Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) has endeavoured to ensure these people are reached and meet their health needs.

“We needed to make sure all clients received culturally appropriate services which is why we opened that door by introducing a cultural awareness program for staff in 2019,” said WSLHD Multicultural Health Services team leader Mohamed Keynan during Refugee Week 2021.

“There was a limited understanding of the health needs of refugees among staff and it was time to fix that.”

The cultural awareness workshops introduced western Sydney health heroes to the underlying problems of refugee health barriers. Some of these barriers include low English language skills and health literacy, cultural backgrounds and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).  

“The program has been very well-received. Many staff members said that they had never thought of what a life of a refugee could look like – but now they do,” Mohamed said.

The WSLHD Multicultural Health team works collaboratively with health and community partners to better coordinate support for refugees in western Sydney.

“The most common problem for refugees was navigating our healthcare system,” Mohamed said.

“We arranged hospital tours to give them an opportunity to get acquainted with the services and ask questions.

“It was eye-opening for some of them, as they did not have access to such medical infrastructure in their home countries.”

Refugee community members and WSLHD Multicultural Health team members.

Participants were also introduced to general practitioners and family doctors with Mohamed explaining it helped divert clients from presenting to the emergency department with non-urgent health issues.

“In their home countries the ED was a place to go if you had a headache or stomach ache,” he said.

“We explained about the operations of the ED, the triage system, and the longer waiting time for low-urgency clients.

“The concept was new to many but they felt comfortable seeking help from one trusted health professional rather than going to the ED.”

The highly-skilled WSLHD Multicultural Health team consists of healthcare professionals of different cultural backgrounds and includes refugees. 

Services are available in many languages to those who need it – including health literacy consultancy and educational programs, liaison, online programs and face-to-face translation.

WSLHD Interpreter Services health care interpreter Bakri Gabir in the acoustic booth.

The theme of this year’s Refugee week, running from 20-26 June, is “Unity” and WSLHD has partnered up with local service providers including Community Resource Network to host a number of events.

To register for any of these events, click here.

To learn about the refugee experience, its impact on health, and how you can better support new arrivals manage their health, register for a “Refugee camp in my neighbourhood” tour.  

You can take a health-focused tour of a simulated refugee journey – cross the border into a refugee camp, through the challenges of urban asylum, from a boat voyage to a detention centre, and into a simulated health clinic in Australia.

To learn more about the WSLHD Multicultural Health programs, contact WSLHD Multicultural Health Services manager Monika Latanik at