Refugee Council of Australia
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Barriers to education for people seeking asylum and refugees on temporary visas

Financial, social and other support

Financial, social and other support

Service providers and community members also highlighted the lack of financial support for young people seeking asylum in secondary and higher education as a significant barrier. People seeking asylum who are living in the community receive only a basic living allowance under the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS). This limited financial support, well below the poverty line, creates significant difficulties for those trying to cover the basic costs associated with attending school. These difficulties are particularly substantial for young unaccompanied people seeking asylum living without the support of their families.

Policy regarding SRSS payments also significantly impacts young people who turn 18, as they move from more intensive support while they are in Community Detention to very limited support on a BVE. This drop-off in financial and case worker support is so acute that young people often cannot sustain their attendance in high school and simultaneously lose access to supports to re-negotiate access when or if they move schools or to TAFE.

Limited support is provided by the Federal Government for students under the age of 18 who are seeking asylum and who are living in the community awaiting processing of their claims. The Federal Government provides funding for primary and secondary school students through the SRSS. This allowance provides $450 to the school for uniforms (shirts, shorts, pants, skirts, dress and shoes), schoolbooks, stationery and school bags.

However, the funds cannot be used for excursions and other school equipment such as laptops, iPads and other required materials. RCOA has heard of many young people missing school claiming they are sick, as they cannot afford to attend excursions and other compulsory activities. The funding also does not cover travel to school and a number of states do not provide concession travel rates for people seeking asylum, leaving many young people to spend a significant portion of their income support on travelling to school.

Other states may provide additional assistance for young people to participate in secondary education but this support varies across states and may also cut off once a person turns 18.
Two young people seeking asylum highlighted this issue to RCOA at a recent community conference. They shared their experience of being denied funding for secondary education because they were over 18 years old and the resultant financial difficulties in affording basic necessities for school:

Schools provide a uniform but they don’t provide a raincoat or school shoes, forcing young people to buy these for themselves from the limited amount of money they receive. This money also needs to pay for their accommodation, bills and food. The money does not last until the end of the fortnight, forcing people to go without food. Some students spend $40 to $50 on public transport in order to attend a school that will accept them. Many young people walk 40-50 minutes almost every day to the local library to do their homework as they don’t have a computer or laptop at home … They don’t have enough government funding for people seeking asylum. Some don’t have work rights and those who have work rights leave school in order to earn enough money to support themselves.

These issues have directly or indirectly affected the life of all people seeking asylum in high school. Very few of those people seeking asylum are left in high schools. I faced all these issues but still I am happy to continue with my education because it took me one and half years to be enrolled in school.

A further issue highlighted by teachers and service providers is the lack of appropriate careers counselling and pathway planning provided in high schools for young people seeking asylum. Throughout high school, and increasingly into the senior years, there is a significant focus on planning for further education and employment.

However, the advice and curriculum in schools does not take into account the limited options available to young people seeking asylum, as they cannot pursue further education. Service providers commented on the need for schools to be aware of this issue and appropriately provide transition support to these young people. As one service provider highlighted during RCOA’s annual consultations:

Schools are doing pathway planning but, if you have a kid that you can’t talk to about university because they are not eligible to go to uni or can’t put them into programs which involve part-time work, it goes against everything that we are trying to do.

The impact of TPVs on education was also highlighted by the Australian Human Rights Commission when TPVs were previously introduced. The report described how the uncertainty of TPV impacted young people in school, and how the lack of future study options provided difficulties for student’s motivations and plans for the future. As one young person on a TPV told the inquiry:

When I think about my future, I think it’s very uncertain. The only thing that I love and I desire is to study. I really want to be educated but then again, when I think about my future then I think of going back, not being able to get a decent job or study, I feel completely heartbroken. And I cannot even concentrate on my studies. I believe you can never study when you are full of fear or when your stomach is empty. So sometimes I feel like that and when I go to bed to sleep I think about these things.

Recommendation 6

RCOA recommends that the Federal Government allow students in secondary school access to additional financial support for school until they complete their final year

Recommendation 7

RCOA recommends that the Federal Government review the level of support people receive on SRSS to ensure it adequately covers all costs associated with living costs, travel and attending education

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