Oceania includes Australia & New Zealand, Melanesia, Micronesia, and Polynesia (United Nations, Statistics Division). Occupational therapists practice in Australia and New Zealand. 

The Asia Pacific Occupational Therapists Regional Group (APOTRG) has been a member of World Federation of Occupational Therapists (WFOT) since 2006.


The numbers

  • Number of occupational therapists: 15 000 (WFOT, 2010)
  • Number of displaced people in residence: 28 676 (UNHCR, 2012)
  • Number of displaced people originating: 47 (UNCHR, 2012)
  • Number of detained asylum seekers, May 12: 4 906 (DIAC, 2012 statsmap)
  • Max number of potential years in immigration detention: indefinite

Legislative context

  • UN Refugee Convention (1951) Australia became a signatory 1955 for the Convention and 1973 for the Protocol
  • Stateless Persons Convention (1954) Australia became a signatory 1977 (UN Treaty Collection)
  • Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness (1961) Australia became a signatory 1973 (UN Treaty Collection)

Human rights concerns

Political hysteria about "boat people", people who claim asylum having arrived by boat.

"I am aware that the maritime movement of people in dangerous boat journeys is a problem that preoccupies many governments in this region, including your own," the High Commissioner, Mr. Guterrres noted. "Compared to the refugee problem in other regions of the world, the debate is out of proportion in relation to the real dimension of the issue, as the numbers of people coming to Australia are small by global standards." ~ Mr. Guterres on the 2012 visit to Australia and New Zealand.

Continued attempts to export boat people to other countries off shore to process and warehouse them.

People trapped indefinitely in detention despite being deemed refugees, people with failed security assessments:

"People in this situation, including families with children, are facing prolonged and indefinite detention which, I believe, could amount to arbitrary detention. They could potentially experience breaches of other fundamental rights, including the principle of non-refoulement, the right to family unity, the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of citizenship and the right to a fair trial." Human Rights & Equal Opportunity Commission here

OT response

The Australian national anthem includes the spirit of inclusion and multiculturalism (and reminds us we're all boat people - buy the OOFRAS Tshirt!)

'For those who've come across the seas
We've boundless plains to share,
With courage let us all combine
To advance Australia fair"

Refugees are some of our newest Australians. However we pause to acknowledge the refugee-like experiences of the first Australians and honour Indigenous Australian people and culture

We welcome the landmark apology of 2008 and the Close the Gap initiative. 

Click the folder to browse agencies in Australia working with refugees to network with the sector or explore practice placement opportunities.

2011 Census Data

The Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) has recently released a series of stories from the 2011 Census including “Cultural Diversity in Australia” which reveals that 26% of the Australian population is overseas-born, with a further 20% with at least one overseas-born parent.

  • 82% of overseas-born people live in capital cities, compared to 66% of all people in Australia
  • Over 300 ancestries were separately identified in the Census
  • The top 10 birthplaces in decreasing order are the United Kingdom, New Zealand, China, India, Italy, Vietnam, the Philippines, South Africa, Malaysia and Germany
  • Country of birth groups that increased the most since the last Census are India, China and New Zealand
  • The median age of Australian-born people is 37 years, compared to 50 years for long standing migrants and 27 for new arrivals
  • The fastest growing religions since the last Census are Hinduism (189%), Islam (69%) and Buddhism (48%)
  • 53% of first generation migrants speak a language other than English at home. For long standing migrants the most common languages are Mandarin, Cantonese, Italian and Vietnamese and for recent migrants, Mandarin, Punjabi, Hindi and Arabic. 

New Zealand

The numbers

  • Number of occupational therapists: 2 050 (WFOT, 2010)
  • Numbers of resettled a year: 750 
  • Number of displaced people in residence: 2 174 (UNHCR Jan 2012)
  • Number of displaced people originating: 28 (UNHCR Jan 2012)
  • Number of specific immigration detention centres: 0* (note: detainees may or may not segregated from criminal and "administrative" detention)
  • Max number of potential years in immigration detention: indefinite*
  • Numbers of detained asylum seekers in prison and other: unknown (*see Global Detention Project)

Legislative context

  • Signatory of UN Refugee Convention (1951) in 1960 and the Protocol in 1973
  • Not yet signatory of Stateless Persons Convention (1954)
  • Immigration Act (2009) presently being discussed - see human rights concerns below

Human Rights Concerns

Occupational therapists have cause to be alarmed at proposed mandatory detention of mass arrivals under a group warrant for a period of up to six months and would limit the rights to judicial review for those detained. If any of those people detained were subsequently granted refugee status, the bill would limit the extent of family re-unification. These proposed amendments to Immigration Act 2009 have been countered with information by New Zealand Human Rights Commission June 12 2012 and June 20 2012. New Zealand has the opportunity to learn from policy failures of other industrialised countries by looking at the proposed policy implications for occupational needs and rights, and the subsequent costs.

Ministry of Health. (2012) Refugee Health Care: A Handbook for Health Professionals Ministry of Health: Wellington. NZ: 178

Displacement in countries without occupational therapists

Displacement may be as a result of persecution (eg Papua New Guinea hosts 9 378 refugees), many of the countries without occupational therapists listed below are islands exposed to the effects of climate change.

Norfolk Island, Melanesia (Fiji, Papua New Guinea, New Caledonia, Solomon Islands, Vanuatu), Micronesia (Guam,Kiribati, Marshal Islands, Micronesia, (Federated States of), Naru, Northern Mariana Islands, Palau), Polynesia (American Samoa, Cook Islands, French Polynesia, Niue, Pitcairn, Samoa, Tokelau, Tonga, Tuvalu, Wallis and Futuna Islands) 

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