The following piece was published 26 June 2013, SBS World News Australia Radio.
By Ildi Amon
Refugee advocates are warning Australia's future health costs could balloon unless changes are made to the provision of health care for refugees and asylum-seekers.
Victoria's Government says the number of refugees and asylum-seekers coming to the state in the past financial year has doubled, and it's announced funding to address their healthcare needs.
But the federal government's expert panellist, Paris Aristotle, says the Commonwealth must do more.
Victoria's Health Minister, David Davis, says changes to federal immigration policy have doubled the number of refugees and asylum-seekers arriving in Victoria.
Mr Davis says more than 11,000 people have arrived in Victoria in the past financial year alone.
The Victorian Government says it's important to recognise the health challenges of those fleeing persecution, many of whom will become citizens.
In response, the Victorian government has announced a 22.2 million-dollar investment over a four-year period to provide health assessments and familiarise asylum-seekers and refugees with the state's medical system.
Monash Health works with asylum-seekers and refugees in Melbourne's southeast.
The organisation's head of Refugee Health, Associate Professor Andrew Block, says this is a particularly vulnerable and disadvantaged group.
"The needs of asylum-seekers are greater than the general population and not just because of the more complicated medical problems. It's also the mental health problems as a result of the conflict in Afghanistan but also contributed to by the quite arduous and dreadful journeys they make through southeast Asia and of course the boat journey and also their period in detention."
Andrew Block says mental health needs and torture and trauma counselling needs must be identified early.
He says there are also special needs regarding infectious diseases, children's health and maternal health, while chronic diseases such as diabetes and heart disease that affect the broader community also can't be overlooked.
Victoria's Health Minister, David Davis, says preliminary health checks are crucial.
"Well I think the key thing here is that people who come to our state in this way often do have particular health needs. If you think of a young African boy coming here at 16 years of age, it's very likely he hasn't had the history of dental treatment that an Australian boy of the same age would've had, so there is some catch-up work to do, there is an additional load on the system."
But Mr Davis says providing additional services, such as a Refugee Health Nurse and the Refugee Health Fellows program, puts more pressure on the state's health system.
He says Victoria's Coalition Government has tried to pre-empt a cost blow-out but he's now calling on the Federal Government to provide greater assistance to the state in recognition of the growing number of new arrivals.
"We've taken the attitude that we welcome each and every person to Victoria. We make an assessment on the needs of those people and we provide the additional health and medical support that is required. It's important that the Commonwealth collaborate and work to make sure that they are working synergistically with the state system too to make sure there's additional support, additional capacity in the system to deal with these significantly increased numbers."
A refugee advocate and member of the federal government's Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers has welcomed Victoria's new funding agreement.
But Paris Aristotle, who is also director of the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture, says the Federal Government must do more.
He says without more support, state governments and non-government organisations may be forced to divert resources from other areas to refugees and asylum-seekers.
"I think the state government's contribution and that investment of 22 million dollars in the last budget was absolutely outstanding. In this current economic climate, for Minister Davis and Minister Wooldridge to acknowledge the need in this area, in such a generous way, really does deserve great applause and commendation."
Paris Aristotle has rejected media reports suggesting that growing numbers of asylum-seekers in the state's southeastern region are a "ticking time bomb."
But he concedes it's natural for people to gravitate to certain locations where others who share their background already live.
"In acknowledging that, that will place other pressures on services and unless there is adequate assistance made available for them then they will require more assistance from a mental health perspective or a health perspective. But I don't think it's either fair or there is any clear evidence to suggest that they are any more likely to become involved in criminal activities than any other person in the general population."