Refugee Council of Australia
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The home stretch: Challenges and alternatives in sustainable housing for refugees and people seeking asylum

Housing issues for people seeking asylum

Housing issues for people seeking asylum living in the community

While there is a growing body of literature on the experiences of refugee and humanitarian entrants in finding housing, there has been less written about the experiences of people seeking asylum living in the community. This may be due to the current and rapidly changing policy environment that saw a significant increase in people seeking asylum granted bridging visas from late 2011, with over 30,000 people seeking asylum living on bridging visas in the community by 2014.
Research that has focused specifically on the housing needs of people seeking asylum in Australia includes the work of Liddy, Sanders and Coleman (2010). This research surveyed domestic models of housing reception for people seeking asylum by investigating housing pathways for newly arrived people seeking asylum and difficulties people seeking asylum encounter in meeting their housing requirements. It also investigated housing models in comparable countries such as Sweden, Canada and the UK.
The study found that the experience of homelessness and long-term destitution not only has a detrimental impact on the health and welfare of people seeking asylum but also hinders their capacity to satisfy the requirements of the protection application process. That is, long-term destitution can affect people seeking asylum’ ability to accept the outcome of their application, especially if their claims are unsuccessful and they are required to return to their countries of origin.
For people who seek asylum and are granted Protection Visas, the “hardship and cumulative health and welfare consequences of homelessness impede the process of settlement in Australia, including recovery from trauma.” This affects not only the person settling and living in Australia; there are also profound economic, social and civil costs impacting on government-funded settlement and welfare services and the broader community.
In more recent research, the Red Cross conducted a Homeless Census of asylum seeker clients in 2012. (This source is no longer available). Red Cross found that almost half of the people seeking asylum surveyed did not have access to quality, long term housing. Of this group, more than 200 people seeking asylum (including families with children) were living in emergency accommodation or were sleeping rough.
The Red Cross census also found that people seeking asylum were forced to move regularly in order to find a place to live, were often not eligible for material assistance (such as bed linen, blankets, pillow cases, crockery, cutlery and clothes) and struggled to be able to pay all expenses on the limited income support, with people sacrificing meals in order to be able to pay rent and/or utility bills. Red Cross’ inaugural Vulnerability Report (2013) further found that people seeking asylum on bridging visas competing in the private rental market encounter systemic discrimination through the combined effects of inadequate income support, language barriers, poor transport, underlying discrimination and the pressured process of rental inspection.
In terms of other literature that is available on housing issues for people seeking asylum, it has generally been found that a major barrier to securing housing is inadequate assistance for people seeking asylum attempting to navigate the housing market (Beer and Foley 2003; Burns 2010).Spinney and Nethery (2013) found that people seeking asylum are regularly denied access to housing and homelessness services because of an incorrect understanding by some service providers that they are ineligible for housing assistance and, while some agencies will provide support, there is a lack of a formal policy that ensures that people seeking asylum have access to safe and secure housing.

Strategies for supporting people seeking asylum to find sustainable housing

Existing literature on housing for people seeking asylum has identified a need for a holistic framework to facilitate people seeking asylum’ access to the current transitional or supported housing service systems. More specifically, Liddy, Sanders and Coleman (2010) call for discreet housing models for people seeking asylum, particularly medium-term supported transitional housing, arguing that “while many of the services provided to newly arrived refugees are relevant to people seeking asylum, the transitional nature of seeking asylum requires a different approach”.
The model proposed by Liddy, Sanders and Coleman sets out an upper limit on the length of support at 18 months, anticipating that people seeking asylum will have their claims resolved within this time period and that “the majority of people seeking asylum will exit their housing within 18 months”. It should be noted that, since this report was published, the Australian Government has introduced policies which significantly lengthen the period of time people seeking asylum may be in the community without a permanent resolution of their case.

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