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New welfare boss calls for better deal for refugees

A Vietnamese refugee will be at the helm of Australia's peak welfare body.

"There's a saying, 'you can't be what you can't see'," Hang Vo told AAP.

"But you can be what you can't see, it's just harder."

In what CEO Cassandra Goldie described as an overdue moment, the Australian Council of Social Service appointed Ms Vo as its incoming president.

She is the first queer person of colour to be president across the organisation's 66-year history.

But she says her lived experience as a gay woman, from a working class family, and as a refugee is essential to her work in social services.

Ms Vo was seven when she arrived in Australia in the 1970s as part of the Vietnamese "boat people" generation.

She says growing up in Springvale in Melbourne's southeast, migrants fleeing their home countries to build a better life in Australia were a normal part of her life.

It wasn't until when she went to university where she was made to feel that differences were a deficit.

"There is a narrative that blames the victim," she said.

"But it is about embracing our lived experience. There is real strength and courage."

Ms Vo has worked in various roles, including CEO of youth services organisation Whitelion and board director of Respect Victoria and the Victorian Pride Centre.

She is now chief executive of Sacred Heart Mission.

Ms Vo says she hopes her work as president can help more refugees come up the ranks into positions like her.

The federal government in February announced almost 20,000 refugees living in limbo will be able to apply for permanent residency, given they have a temporary protection visa or safe haven enterprise visa.

However, more than 2500 people were found not to be owed protection by Australia and are expected to leave the country.

An additional 5000 people are having their protection visa applications reviewed.

"There are lives that are being put on hold permanently," she said.

"It is a real honour and privilege to be president, but it's about how I can use the platform to help refugees do more than survive."