Refugee Council of Australia
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Submission on the Australian Government’s response to the COVID-19 pandemic



Recommendation 1

The Australian Government should immediately release low-risk people in immigration detention into the community, either into residence determination or onto Bridging Visas with financial assistance and Medicare. Until their release, the Government should detail its process for individualised risk assessments and its reasons for people’s continued detention, including why it continues to detain many people recognised as refugees, in direct contravention of our responsibility under international law.

Recommendation 2

In order to protect both the refugees and people seeking asylum in PNG and in Nauru, as well as the local population, the Australian Government should immediately transfer back to Australia all people who were subject to regional processing.

Recommendation 3

The Australian Government should grant all people seeking asylum access to Medicare to ensure that they can remain safe during the pandemic.

Recommendation 4

The Australian Government should extend JobSeeker access, or the equivalent Special Benefit, to people seeking asylum so that they can pay rent, cover their utilities, and care for themselves until they are able to secure employment again.

Recommendation 5

The Australian Government should remove the assets test for Special Benefit to bring it in line with the requirements of JobSeeker.

Recommendation 6

The Australian Government should allow students on a TPV or SHEV to access Special Benefit while studying to prevent destitution and homelessness during this crisis.

Recommendation 7

The Australian Government should extend JobKeeper payments to all people seeking asylum and refugees on temporary visas who are employed and meet the JobKeeper requirements.

Recommendation 8

The Australian Government should suspend the SHEV pathway requirement for the entire duration of the COVID-19 crisis to ensure that people are not disadvantaged for being unemployed or accessing vital social security.

Recommendation 9

The Australian Government should:

  • Take a proactive approach in reminding people their visas (including Bridging Visas) are going to expire;
  • Ensure all relevant bars are lifted for applications prior to their current visa expiring;
  • Efficiently process all visas, especially where a person faces being unlawful, to ensure there are no gaps in processing leaving people without a visa for weeks or for months,
  • and
  • d.) Make changes to the Ministerial guidelines to reflect that when a person has missed a deadline due to COVID-19 impacts, there is flexibility and provision for visa renewal and application recommencement

Recommendation 10

The Australian Government should prioritise developing improved ways of communicating especially during crises – to multilingual communities in Australia. Partnering with refugee community organisations is a vital first step in getting the process right in order to:

  • Present important information in audio, visual, and interactive guides in addition to translated materials on available on government websites.
  • Ensure this way of presenting information be embedded in Commonwealth government department processes for communicating information to the public, with information centralised and easily accessible in diverse languages and methods of communication.

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