A coalition of mayors and council leaders from around the country have signed onto an open letter today, calling on the Federal Government to extend crucial supports to people seeking asylum affected by COVID-19.
The open letter, which has 38 signatories from across the country, outlines key concerns for people seeking asylum who have lost work as a result of COVID-19 and remain ineligible for income support programs and – in some instances – Medicare. Many of the areas represented in the open letter are home to large populations of people seeking asylum, and local governments are seeing the full impact of the lack of support being offered by the Federal government.
Cr Georgina Papafotiou, Mayor of Brimbank City Council, Victoria, said of her own community, where they have experienced a recent surge in COVID-19 cases: ‘Brimbank City Council has the second highest number of asylum seekers in Victoria. Many suburbs across Brimbank are now experiencing further restrictions in line with the State Government’s re-introduction of Stage 3 restrictions across certain parts of Melbourne. We want to ensure everyone in our community can take the necessary measures to stay safe and protect themselves. There is no doubt that these new measures will compound the socio-economic issues our community is already experiencing.
“Furthermore, asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas are experiencing major economic impacts due to COVID-19, as they are ineligible for JobSeeker and Jobkeeper payments. Charities within Brimbank have reported significant increases in demand from asylum seekers in need of assistance due to the pandemic. Brimbank Council is calling on the Federal Government to extend the income support measures to asylum seekers living in the community.”
The open letter comes as a coalition of educators have recently called on the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston to extend the JobSeeker scheme to people seeking asylum over concerns of their students becoming destitute.
Jess Scully, Deputy Lord Mayor of the City of Sydney, whose mother came to Australia as a refugee, said, “The federal government’s response to coronavirus has left refugees and asylum seekers out in the cold. At a time when they need our help the most, thousands of people in our community have been left without access to basic healthcare, income support or visa certainty.
We’re asking that refugees and asylum seekers get access to Medicare, JobKeeper and JobSeeker, and that temporary visa holders are given peace of mind by speeding up and simplifying the visa process. We need to send a strong message to the government that we want nobody left behind as we reimagine our society after this crisis.”
Greater Dandenong City Council Mayor Councillor Jim Memeti said he backed these calls by educators. He said the majority of refugees and people seeking asylum had little, or no income to survive on: “Since the COVID-19 pandemic hit, we are seeing a significant increase in demand by people on temporary visas. We are talking about women, men and families with children who were already struggling due to Federal Government funding cuts and a lack of financial support.
“Greater Dandenong City Council has committed an additional $250,000 and delivered more than 65 tonnes of food and material aid to our local community since this health crisis began but we know more is needed.”
Many local councils are concerned for the growing demand for emergency relief in their communities, and in particular, are concerned what will happen when the eviction moratorium is lifted come September.
Cr Josh Gilligan, Mayor of Wyndham City, said that “In Wyndham City, we are largely relying on charities and the kindness of our community members to support our migrants on humanitarian visas. While charities are working tirelessly to ensure people have food to put on the table, and medicines to keep them well, the cost of covering rent for an indefinite period of time is simply not possible, so there is a real risk of homelessness for some of our most vulnerable residents in the next few months unless the Federal Government steps up and offers financial support to asylum seekers.”
“Many of these migrants depended on casual work in the hospitality industry and have been out of work since March without any income support,” he added.
Linda Scott, President of peak body Local Government of NSW (LGNSW) said, “The exclusion of asylum seekers in Australia from COVID-19 economic support packages places thousands of people at very real risk, and local councils are often closely involved in helping these families, but this is not a sustainable option. Every person in our communities should have the right to access essential services and support. We are joining mayors and councillors across the country in calling for the Federal Government to immediately extend COVID 19 support to this especially vulnerable part of our communities.”
The group of Mayors are calling on the Federal government to extend the commendable programs it has in place to those who are struggling at this time.
The full letter and list of signatories can be found here.
For comment, please contact:
- Mayor Cr Jim Memeti, City of Greater Dandenong, VIC. Contact: Kylie Sprague: Ph: 03 8571 5359 Mob: 0417 475 870
- Mayor Cr Georgina Papafotiou, Brimbank City Council, VIC. Contact: Ph: 03 9249 4523 / 03 9249 4340
- Cr Josh Gilligan, Mayor of Wyndham City, VIC. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org
- Deputy Lord Mayor Jess Scully, City of Sydney, NSW. Contact: Alex Mckinnon 0411 829 334
- Mayor Wendy Waller, Liverpool City Council, NSW. Contact: Chris Hook 02 8711 7851/ 0425 221 002.
- Cllr Barry Calvert, Mayor of Hawkesbury Council and WSROC President. Contact: Kelly Gee (02) 9671 4333 I 0425 871 868
- Linda Scott, President of Local Government NSW. Contact: 0448 718 892.