Food and Nutrition Project for Recent Arrivals from Refugee Backgrounds

Many new arrivals settling in Victoria come from conflict zones around the world where they may have been exposed to traumatic circumstances involving, in some cases, torture or severe psychological violation. For many, the refugee experience will have meant disruption to healthy eating including prolonged periods of inadequate food and water, lack of access to traditional foods, and an inability to maintain regular family eating times.

While they may be in poor health on arrival, people face a number of barriers to re-establishing a good diet including financial and language difficulties, transport problems, difficulties in accessing traditional food supplies, and a lack of familiarity with shopping facilities and foods in Australia. Those suffering the psychological effects of torture and trauma may also experience poor appetite and other eating problems.

There is some potential to use food and lifestyle interventions to promote recovery from the refugee experience by:

  • Addressing the consequences of food deprivation and poor diet.
  • Assisting with some of the psychological consequences of the refugee experience (anxiety, sleeplessness).
  • Promoting control and independence over food purchasing, preparation and consumption.
  • Fostering connections between people and affirming cultural identity, practices and ties.

    The traditional diets and lifestyles of many people coming to Australia are very healthy. Supporting them to re-establish or maintain these can help to prevent the development of some lifestyle diseases common among the Australian born. At the same time, some changes will need to be made on arrival.

Recognising that new arrivals face a number of competing priorities in the early settlement period – many of which are central to their survival – it aims to address issues in low key ways which can be accessed by new arrivals in the course of accomplishing other settlement tasks. Its emphasis is on enhancing the capacity of health, settlement and teaching professionals to provide support to new arrivals.

The project was developed following consultation with new arrival communities and those working with them. Multilingual resources were focus tested with new arrivals, while professional resources were piloted with relevant workers and their recently arrived clients.

While the project is concerned with new arrival communities broadly, specific language or cultural resources and information are targeted to the communities of Iraq, the former Yugoslavia and the African countries of Somalia, Ethiopia, Eritrea and the Sudan.

Key diet and lifestyle messages conveyed in project resources are consistent with the the National Health and Medical Research Council’s Australian Dietary Guidelines (1992).

Project resources

The Food and Nutrition Project for Recent Arrivals from Refugee Backgrounds has produced a number of resources to support new arrivals to maintain a healthy diet and lifestyle in Australia. Check out our electronic publication : Healthy Eating and Living in Australia and Easing the Transition.

The project is an initiative of the Victorian Foundation for Survivors of Torture (VFST) in collaboration with Deakin University and the Darebin, Springvale and Western Region community health centres. It was funded by the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation.

Please contact health@survivorsvic.org.au for further details.