Refugee health - frequently asked questions

Who is an asylum seeker?

When people flee their own country and seek sanctuary in another country, they apply for asylum – the right to be recognised as a refugee and receive legal protection and material assistance. An asylum seeker must demonstrate that his or her fear of persecution in his or her home country is well founded. 


Who is a refugee?

A refugee is: any person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.

United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees

(Article 1. United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees.
Geneva: United Nations Conference on the Status of Refugees and Stateless Persons, 1951, article 1.)

The majority of refugees arriving in New Zealand are selected from overseas as quota refugees. However convention refugee status is sometimes given to people who have been recognised as refugees on arrival in New Zealand as asylum seekers. The 1951 Geneva Convention is the main international instrument of refugee law.


Where can asylum seekers have a health screening?

Asylum seekers can obtain a free health screening in Auckland and other centres. To make an appointment, contact:

  • Mangere Refugee Health Screening Service (RHSS): 09 250 9850

For other centres, please contact the Public Health Unit:

  • Regional Public Health (Greater Wellington): 04 570 9002
  • Waikato Public Health Unit (Hamilton): 07 838 2569
  • Christchurch Public Health Unit: 03 364 1777


Does public health screening cost anything for asylum seekers?

The service is free of charge. Please note the screening is not an immigration medical examination and is not for management of long term health issues. Enrolment with a GP is recommended to manage long-term conditions.


Are interpreters available?

If a former refugee cannot speak English, a professional interpreter can be arranged. It is better not to use a family member.

Refugees are encouraged to ring and ask for an interpreter if they need one, when they make an appointment with the doctor or at the health clinic. The interpreter can be on the telephone or in the room during the consultation.


Are refugees and asylum seekers eligible for publicly provided health services in the hospital or hospital clinic?

Individuals with refugee or protection status in New Zealand are eligible, but will need to show proof of status in the form of an approval letter from the Refugee Status Branch or the Immigration and Protection Tribunal, a residence visa or an open-ended work visa.

Individuals who are in the process of having an application for refugee or protection status determined (including those on appeal) are also eligible. They will need to show proof of a current application, for example, an acknowledgement of receipt of claim letter from the Refugee Status Branch or of an appeal from the Tribunal. However, if this letter is more than six months old, they should provide a more recent letter confirming that their application is still in process.

The Immigration Contact Centre can advise health professionals as to the current status of an application and can be contacted on:

  • 09 914 4100 – Auckland
  • 04 910 9915 – Wellington
  • 0508 558 855 – Other regions in NZ


Are refugees and asylum seekers eligible for funded care at the general practitioner (GP)?

It is important for recently arrived refugees to enrol at a GP to be eligible for lower fees.

In Auckland, some general practitioners (GPs) participate in a wrap-around service, with free or low-cost care and access to interpreters. Clients should clarify any appointment costs to avoid any confusion, including any possible pharmacy costs. A 'disability allowance' may be available from Work and Income for people with long-term conditions to help with healthcare costs.

Last updated 24.11.2022

For health advice call Healthline for free anytime on 0800 611 116
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