The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has welcomed a new NSW Government emergency support package of $3.65 million as a much-needed response to ongoing destitution among people seeking asylum who live in our communities.
RCOA CEO Paul Power said the NSW Government was showing commendable leadership and he hoped that the Federal Government would step up and provide for people seeking asylum who are facing destitution.
“I welcome the announcement today by NSW Minister for Multiculturalism, Mark Coure, to extend their generous emergency relief package to people seeking asylum,” Mr Power said. “The ongoing cuts to the Federal Government’s safety net program for this group, combined with the fact that they were excluded from the government’s COVID relief package has put them in a highly vulnerable position where many are facing destitution.”
“It’s now time for the Federal Government to follow this example and address the needs of thousands of people seeking asylum living well below the poverty line in our community.”
Fewer than 900 people are currently able to access financial assistance through a special program called SRSS (Status Resolution Support Services) which should assist people who are waiting for the government to assess their refugee application from becoming destitute, as people seeking asylum do not have access to Centrelink and associated social support. At the maximum level, SRSS payments provide a single person $42 a day.
In 2017, then Minister Peter Dutton drastically cut the SRSS Program. Since then, it has been cut by 94%, from 245.8 million in 2016-17 to just $16.6 million last year.
There are over 70,000 people who have sought refugee protection in Australia and are waiting for a decision. Not everyone will require financial assistance, as many people want to and can work. For those that do need help, based on the charities and community groups supporting people without a safety net, there are approximately 10,000 people in Australia – including children, the elderly, and people with disabilities – that need a basic safety net to help them survive while they wait for a decision.
There are 26,000 people still awaiting their first decision on their refugee protection application, and an additional 1,000 people who arrived in 2012 or 2013 by sea and are still waiting on that first decision. There are a further 37,000 people who are waiting in the backlog of merits review and greater than 8,300 people who are waiting on a decision from the courts.
Without this support, thousands of people who are living with trauma from persecution in their home countries are struggling to live in Australia, reliant on under-resourced charities. Many of these people have been subject to offshore processing or community detention. Many are still developing English language skills, have complex health challenges, or have caring responsibilities.
“With no Federal safety net to rely on and often no savings, people in this situation quickly find themselves struggling to pay rent and keep food on the table,” Mr Power said.
“In putting this package together, the NSW Government has listened to the state’s frontline agencies and charities and recognised that residents of NSW should not be left behind just because of their visa status. It’s now time for the Federal Government to do the same.”
The $3.65 million package announced today will go to 15 organisations that support people seeking asylum and temporary protection visa holders. This latest funding allocation means the NSW Government has provided some $20 million to support these organisations over the past two years. Victoria, Queensland, the ACT, Tasmania, South Australia, and Western Australia have all developed either multi-million dollar support programs or made special concessions in transport and health access for people seeking asylum. Like NSW, the care programs that the other states have created were in direct response to the lack of support available from the Federal Government for people made vulnerable by their visa status.
For media inquiries please contact the Refugee Council on 0488 035 535.
You can read our letter from 9 September 2022 requesting that the NSW Government extend its emergency support here.