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New data reveals children of people seeking asylum left hungry as impact of COVID- 19 crisis deepens

As Australia celebrates low case numbers of COVID-19 and early signs of economic recovery, the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has today released new figures revealing the extent of a deepening crisis amongst people seeking asylum.

The Australian Government’s decision to exclude people seeking asylum from COVID-19- related support has left tens of thousands forced to rely on emergency relief to survive. Now, as charities and social networks struggle to shoulder the ongoing burden, shocking new data shows that this crisis is only deepening with time. RCOA’s survey of emergency relief providers – serving thousands of people seeking asylum – revealed that of those surveyed:

  • 70% of people have been forced to skip meals due to hardship
  • 14% are currently experiencing homelessness, while 55% are at imminent risk of homelessness
  • 88% have struggled to pay their rent since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

For the full report, click here.

RCOA CEO Paul Power said, “For years, the Australian Government has subjected people to agonising waiting times for decisions on their asylum claims, coupled with a cruel temporary visa cycle which makes it extremely difficult to secure stable, long-term employment. As a result, people in this situation were some of the first – and worst-affected – by sweeping job losses as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. The government, however, has repeatedly refused to provide substantial or ongoing support. As a result, our member agencies who provide basic services such as food banks for these people are now experiencing their highest demand ever and are struggling to provide the colossal scale of assistance needed.

“The Australian Government is touting the end of the recession but, by leaving over 100,000 people behind, is willingly creating a growing crisis in our communities,” Mr Power said.

As people are faced with the agonising choice of feeding their families or paying the rent, many are relying on food banks to survive. Dr Gillian Singleton, Medical Director of the Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub, said that she has been treating children of people seeking asylum for signs of nutritional deficiencies.

“Food banks generally have tinned food and minimal fresh fruit and vegetables, which makes it difficult to provide children with the nutrition they need for healthy growth and development,” Dr Singleton said. “If people are unable to work or to find work, I’m not sure how they are supposed to survive. It is heart-breaking to see people who describe feeling so hopeless and helpless. They can’t return home due to fear of persecution but can’t live here without the support of charities.”

Maeve Brown, Programs and Service Delivery Manager at Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia said, “Demand for our services has steadily increased since the COVID-19 crisis began in March 2020, including a 260% increase in need for food. In the last six months, JRS Australia’s foodbank delivery service has reached 10,890 food deliveries to women, children and men seeking asylum in Western Sydney, and demand has only grown.”

“With the support of dozens of schools, parishes, and other community groups we are now providing food bank parcels to more than 1,000 people per week, including 350 children in dire need of nutrition. Many people who lost work as the COVID-19 pandemic unfolded are still unable to find work and have been relying solely on charity support and the generosity of the community,” she continued.

Frances Rush, CEO of the Asylum Seekers Centre in Sydney, reported a similar increase: “The Asylum Seekers Centre is continuing to support more than 1200 people a fortnight with basic food supplies, and more people in need are being assisted through community partnerships. In addition, we are providing emergency financial relief and housing assistance to support people who would otherwise be unable to pay their rent. We are doing all that we can to assist people to find work, but until then there are many without the basics. While there is a role for charities to play, the responsibility sits firmly with the Federal Government to ensure people living in Australia are not homeless.”

Hundreds of organisations, thousands of teachers and students, dozens of local councils and mayors and thousands of ordinary Australians have joined the Nobody Left Behind campaign to call for support for people seeking asylum and refugees on temporary visas but so far the Australian Government has failed to provide anything beyond ad-hoc emergency relief.

For comment / interview:
Laura Stacey, Refugee Council of Australia: 0488 035 535
Megan Keyes, Cabrini Outreach: 0439 631 331
Danielle Townsend, Asylum Seekers Centre: 0419 381 943
Nishadh Rego, Jesuit Refugee Services: 0403 566 800

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