Importance of carers in the Refugee Minor Program

The role of carers is critical to ensuring the health and wellbeing of Unaccompanied Humanitarian Minors (UHM), due to the absence of their parents.

The program's involvement with non-ward clients is based on the principle that children are best cared for by their parents. However, when this is not possible, they are best cared for by close relatives.

Generally, the relative will be from the same culture and speak the same language, understand the child and/or young person’s family history, and often have a similar refugee experience to that experienced by the child/young person.

Carers can also come from the child or young person’s kinship networks such as:

  • Extended family
  • Members of the relevant cultural community
  • Friends and others known to the child or young person
  • Alternative carers such as foster carers.

If you would like to become a carer of a young person, please contact the Refugee Minor Program team.

How the Refugee Minor Program assists carers

The program provides carers with support that helps them to meet the needs children in their care.

Case managers support carers by:

  • Listening to their concerns
  • Assisting them to understand how to access their entitlements
  • Linking them to relevant services
  • Referring them to counsellors, if required
  • Helping them understand and cope with any difficult behaviour from the young person
  • Help them deal with their own healing needs.

A carer's experience

Prisca cares for 3 young people as well as her own, 4 children. She shares her experience of how she came to care for these 3 children. 

  • Prisca's story

    My Name is Prisca. I come from the Ivory Coast and have been living in Australia for almost 7 years now with my own 4 children.

    I also live with Sandrine, Samuel and Miata, who are children I met in Church back in the Ivory Coast. I used to look after these children when their mother was alive and Miata was only a small baby. I would often care for them as their mother was unwell, so the children knew me well.

    The refugee camp

    When the war broke out in the Ivory Coast it was very unsafe and we had to leave. I had to take my 4 children and live in a refugee camp in Guinea.

    When I got to Guinea, I saw Sandrine, Samuel and Miata and their mother again. Life was very different there compared to the Ivory Coast. Everyone was unsettled and had no homes. My focus was to look after my children.

    Life was very hard in Guinea. We had no food, no house and we were just living in an open tarpaulin tent, which we shared with many other families. We only had a small space in the tent which was measured out for us, based on the number of children we had.

    After a short while, I heard that Sandrine, Samuel and Miata’s mother had died. As soon as I heard this I decided to look for the children.

    When I found them they were lying in a tarpaulin tent. There was no one responsible for them, so I began to look after them.

    I tried to find out if there was anyone else with connections to these children. The Red Cross took photos and sent them around to other camps to locate relatives, but no one came forward so I decided to look after the children myself.

    It was very difficult because there was no space for the extra children in our tent, but we just had to manage. We had to pretty much lie on top of one another. Other families were angry because of the extra people in the tent. But slowly people accepted that I was serious about keeping these children and so they made space for us.

    Applying to move to Australia

    After some time in the refugee camp, I was called for an interview with the United Nations and made an application to come to Australia. Only my children and I were on the application, but I knew I could not leave Sandrine, Samuel and Miata alone with no one to care for them.

    I decided to take them with me for the interview. I explained my situation to the interviewer and he allowed me to make another separate application for them.

    A few months later, our names came up to go to Australia. But only my name and my children’s names came up. I knew I would not be able to relax in my new life in Australia if I left Sandrine, Samuel and Miata behind. I was also worried that if I tried to take them with me, they would not let any of us leave the country. I know that if that happened, my own children would always blame me for making them stay.

    I decided to take the risk and apply for Sandrine, Samuel and Miata to come as well.

    In the interview, the man was very angry about the extra children. He hit the desk and accused me of lying and said that I had taken other people's children. The man stormed out of the room and I could see him speaking with his supervisor. We waited and waited.

    When he came back he asked me to leave the room. My heart was pounding. He stayed with my children and talked to them.

    I was then asked back in. The man said sorry for being rude, explaining that usually in these situations people lie. He then explained that, after talking to my children, he believed my story. We had all been approved.

    I couldn’t believe it, we were all very happy!

    I had to meet many people about the children as they had no documents to back up my story. There were a lot of questions asked, but finally we were allowed to travel to Australia.

    Travelling to Australia

    The journey to Australia was very long. The children were very happy and excited. They were all laughing, eating lots of food and talking about what it was going to be like. All they knew was life at the refugee camp and they didn’t like it there, so they were very happy to go to Australia.

    But I remembered my home and I missed it a lot, so I felt very sad. I had a lot of anxiety as I was very worried about what it was going to be like. But I hid my worries from the children. I felt very alone.

    Arriving in Australia

    When we arrived in Australia, a case worker came and met us from Melbourne Airport and took us to our new home.

    It was like a dream, I couldn’t believe my eyes. The children were so excited, but I was confused. I was happy and I was sad.

    They had organised a house for us in Dandenong and the fridge and cupboards were full of food. The children were eating and eating, they couldn’t believe it. We couldn’t believe that we could just turn on the tap and there was water!

    At first, I was very home sick. I could see the beauty of everything around me, but I was so unsure about things. I had to start learning and accepting things for the way they were. I would look out the window and cry. I didn’t want the children to see me cry because they were very happy.

    First visit from the Refugee Minor Program

    Not long after we arrived, two case managers from the Refugee Minor Program came to our house for a home visit. They were there to help me with the children but I didn’t want to talk. I was not feeling good.

    I was so miserable because I didn’t know anyone here. In our culture, we are not used to living alone. Here, I didn’t talk to my neighbours and I had no family. I was so lonely and didn’t have anyone to talk to about my concerns.

    How the program has helped

    After a few visits from my case workers, I started getting used to them and they became my friends.

    The youngest child had some health problems and I always had to take her to hospital. My workers were always there for us. They would come to the hospitals with us and visit the children at school. They were a really big help. I don’t know what it would have been like on my own as there were so many things I had to do.

    I think that the program plays a very important role. When I have a problem I can call on them and talk to them. The workers spend time with me and with the children. They encourage and give advice to the children. They also encourage me. The home visits give me the strength that I need.

    The future

    When I think about the future for Sandrine, Samuel and Miata I see the improvement and the possibilities. I can’t believe it when I see Miata writing and speaking great English. Sandrine likes to dance, she even danced in front of her whole school. I think that maybe she would have been buried in a camp and now look at her. And Samuel is so big and tall now, like a young man. I can’t believe how they have grown and how much they have learned.

    It hasn't been easy and we have struggled, but now we are getting used to life here. We used to have to look for food and now we have more than enough. We have so many clothes that we don’t know which to wear.

    Now I say, 'look at us today, we are so blessed here in Australia'.

Refugee minor program
03 8608 5700
Level 20, 570 Bourke Street Melbourne 3000