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What we spoke about

This teleconference provided an opportunity for those involved in the settlement sector across Australia to hear more about recent policy changes with regards to community release of asylum seekers and some of the implications for settlement services. Participants had the opportunity to ask questions of speakers about recent changes and raise any issues and concerns based on the observations and experiences of settlement services at a local level.

Presenters included Sonia Vignjevic (Australian Red Cross), Simon de Vere (DIAC) and Charles Wann (ASAS and CAS Programs DIAC).

Asylum seekers in the community: Policy and practice implications for settlement services

Australia has a legal and policy framework which provides for mandatory and indefinite immigration detention. Despite this framework, in late 2011 the Australian Government took welcome measures to transfer large numbers of asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons out of closed detention into the community, pending the resolution of their claims for protection. This is being achieved through the use of community detention and bridging visas, with a range of agencies involved in the delivery of services to asylum seekers living in the community.

Sonia Vignjevic

Australian Red Cross (ARC) works across seven key areas:

  • Strengthening national emergency preparedness, response and recovery
  • Increasing international aid and development
  • Strengthening communities in areas of locational disadvantage
  • Championing international humanitarian law
  • International humanitarian law
  • Addressing the impact of migration
  • Partnering with Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and
  • Overcoming social exclusion by providing bridges back into the community.

Supporting people who are vulnerable through migration includes focusing on: family links, humanitarian support, dignity of people in detention, impartiality principles, protection visa processing.

The Red Cross has been supporting asylum seekers in the community and in immigration detention centres (IDCs) for close to 20 years. Its focus is on immediate assistance, with consideration for longer term needs.

The Red Cross has welcomed the release of asylum seekers into the community. Within its Migration Support Program are six national programs:

  • Tracing and restoring family links–internally funded
  • Humanitarian monitoring of immigration detention centres – internally funded
  • Support for trafficked people–funded through FaHCSIA
  • Community Detention (CD) program – funded through DIAC. Supports families with children and unaccompanied minors with access to accommodation, health, education and a living allowance while claims are being processed. People in CD have no work rights, but access to English language classes. ARC has 20 partner agencies. Other agencies have been contracted by DIAC directly to provide CD. As of 12 August, ARC was working with 1,596 CD clients.
  • Community Assistance Support (CAS) – funded through DIAC. Provides transition assistance, emergency accommodation for six weeks, information regarding longer term accommodation, orientation to new community, tips on looking for work, referral, innovative programs in housing and employment e.g. Homestay Network. With regard to the Homestay Network (Community Placement Network, or CPN), 217 clients have been placed in CPN model nationally (77 in Vic, 38 in WA, 33 in Qld, 28 in NSW, 29 in SA, 12 in ACT). Nine clients have had an employment outcome in CPN. 56 clients have left prior to six weeks. Average stay is 30 days. As of 23 August, 296 hosts have been approved under the CPN.
  • Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme (ASAS) – funded through DIAC. Beyond CAS, the ASAS program is for those who are assessed as vulnerable, e.g. provides some financial assistance, health services, referral to other services and support. Access is determined by DIAC. Those exiting ASAS are leaving either because they become ineligible because they are at the review stage, have an employment outcome or are given a protection visa.

There are many challenges for asylum seekers in communities and services working with them. ARC strive to advocate and identify gaps. Major challenges include sustainable housing options and employment support.

The Red Cross welcome collaboration with other agencies, especially in the context of increasing numbers of people being released into the community, and also welcome feedback.

Simon De Vere

  • 3,980 bridging visas have so far been granted to irregular maritime arrivals ‘IMAs’ since the policy was introduced on 25 November 2011.
  • In August alone 1,000 bridging visas were granted.
  • Of the 3,980 bridging visas granted between 25 November 2011 and 29 August 2012, 5 clients have had their visa cancelled or departed and 1,641 have been granted permanent protection visas.
  • 2,334 are currently living in the community on a bridging visa.
  • In terms of state/territory destinations, DIAC provide quarterly BVE statistics on website that have been broken down right to local government area
  • Of 3,980, first destination locations were: ACT – 116; NSW – 849; NT – 114; Qld – 473; SA – 458; Tas – 111; Vic – 1,343; WA – 516.

Charles Wann, ASAS and CAS Programs, DIAC

  • Given the time constraints in setting up, the model in terms of onshore processing has been to use existing programs to the extent that it has been possible. This has required making some policy adjustments as we’ve gone along.
  • First cohorts released had been in detention for some time, which required flexibility in programs, but as subsequent groups released have spent less and less time in detention, this has allowed more certainty in provision of services (e.g. the CAS Transitional program has been made available to all IMAs coming out of detention).
  • There was a need for rapid expansion of the CAS program early on and this was met by the existing CAS provider (Australian Red Cross). ARC agreed to expand their support to 500 clients per month.
  • By June/July this year, there was a need to expand capacity further due to numbers of arrivals, so DIAC set up a procurement process to engage other providers. DIAC needed to do something quickly, and needed to go through agencies that had been through an existing procurement process. Contracted existing HSS providers were deemed to be best placed to respond given the numbers coming through. These other providers have now been announced – MRC-SA, AMES (Vic), SSI (NSW), MDA and ACCESS (Qld). This means CAS now has the capacity to provide services to potentially 2,000 BVE clients per month.
  • These providers will be providing both ASAS and CAS, so mirroring what Red Cross provides.
  • Since the beginning, a few policy issues have had to be worked through, including policy changes regarding access to work rights and access to Medicare. In terms of health, only thing not covered by Medicare is torture and trauma services and access to emergency services (ambulances), so this is dealt with separately.
  • Community release of asylum seekers has meant greater improvement in managing clients in terms of things such as reduced mental health issues both in detention and outside of detention, greater sense of self-agency, and has been more cost effective than detention centres.