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State Premiers warned to prepare to support 500 refugees being abandoned by Federal Government

The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) has written to five State Premiers to warn them to prepare for the Federal Government’s latest move to strip financial assistance from more than 500 refugees and people seeking asylum previously transferred from Papua New Guinea and Nauru.

In letters to the Premiers of New South Wales, Queensland, South Australia, Victoria and Western Australia, RCOA chief executive officer, Paul Power, said the Federal Minister for Home Affairs had recently begun moving up to 515 people brought to Australia by the Federal Government for medical attention from community detention on to Final Departure Bridging Visas, leaving them with no access to any Federal financial assistance.

“While this matter is a Federal issue, the impacts will be felt directly in each of these five states, with State Government services, organisations funded by State agencies, local government, unfunded community services and volunteer groups left to deal with the social impacts of the Federal Minister’s decision,” Mr Power said. “We fear that these impacts will include destitution, homelessness, child protection issues and risks to community health.”

To date, 188 refugees and people seeking asylum have been moved out of community detention or have been given three weeks’ notice that their time in community detention is ending. Another 327 people have been identified as likely to be moved out soon, including 164 people in Victoria whose departure from community detention has been temporarily delayed because of Melbourne’s current Stage 4 lockdown.

They are part of a group of 783 refugees and people seeking asylum put into community detention after being transferred by the Federal Government to address acute health needs which could not be met in Nauru or PNG. Required to live in housing determined and paid for by the Federal Government, they have been able to move freely around the community during the day but have been denied the right to work or to study (if 18 years or older). While it is expected that 268 members of this group will remain in community detention while their applications for resettlement to the United States are considered, those who do not have an active US resettlement application are being given the right to work but not to study and have had their accommodation and living allowance of less than $100 a week removed.

“While it is a good thing that people have been granted the right to work after being denied it for seven years, it will be very difficult in an economic recession for many refugees in this group to be able to find a sustainable income at short notice, with no prior Australian work experience and no opportunity to gain local qualifications,” Mr Power said. “While some members of the group are fluent in English, others have limited English, having being denied access to programs such as the Adult Migrant English Program.

“People are being set up to fail and there is no sign that the Federal Government is concerned about how they will survive or the impact of releasing vulnerable and often unwell refugees into local communities without support.

“It is a shocking abrogation of responsibility. The Federal Government is ignoring its own Child Safeguarding Framework, expecting that state child protection agencies will step in to address risks to children it is creating. As for leaving frail elderly people with no income or support, this is taking heartlessness to a new low.”

A copy of the letter to the Premier of NSW can be found here. It includes a two-page explanation of the removal of Federal Government and its implications.

Note to media: The people affected by this policy are not part of the group brought to Australia under the Medevac legislation passed by the Federal Parliament last year against the wishes of the Coalition Government. Despite that legislation being repealed last December, the 250 or so refugees and people seeking asylum brought to Australia under that legislation remain in locked detention, primarily in Brisbane and Melbourne.

Media enquiries and comment: Samuel Dariol 0425 860 312

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