In Anti-Poverty Week (16-22 October), the Federal Government must say how they will address the needs of thousands of people seeking asylum living well below the poverty line in our community.
Fewer than 2,000 people are currently able to access 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.
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.
The situation facing people on Bridging visas with no income is so urgent that any additional budgetary allocation will make an important difference.
Since 2017, $209 million was cut out of the SRSS Program. However, the program’s budget is not the only challenge.
We call on the Government to issue an urgent policy direction to the Department of Home Affairs to remove the guidelines and policies that restrict access to Status Resolution Support Services for people seeking asylum, and to expand the SRSS eligibility criteria to focus on the needs and vulnerabilities of individuals and families so that it prevents destitution and homelessness.
A story showing the barriers of burdensome process
Nidia is a woman in her mid-30s who has a Bridging Visa to live in Australia while her application for protection is assessed by the government. After an unsuccessful surgery last year, she has been blind in one eye and the sight in her right eye is at risk. She is reliant on one friend who is about to leave Australia and the support of community organisations. Recently she heard that she may be able to access SRSS but requires 15 pieces of evidence to support her application.
A story of food scarcity
An emergency relief provider in Victoria shared their recent experience of handing out food parcels to people seeking asylum. The quality of food donations had dropped significantly but the agency was still able to provide some food packages to people. These food parcels included bruised and damaged fruit and canned goods. Previously, people would take the parcels away and prepare food at home. In the most recent drop-in service, the emergency relief worker noticed that people were taking the food parcels into the parking lots and eating the damaged food right there. “People were genuinely starving, so they ate whatever didn’t need cooking right there in front of us. They were desperate and so hungry.”
Frances Rush, Asylum Seekers Centre CEO
Available for interview: call Danielle Townsend on 0419 381 943.
“Our government is making people wait years for their refugee status to be confirmed and allowing them to live well below the poverty line while they are in limbo.
The government must provide basic income support for people during those times people are unable to work and support themselves. People seeking asylum should not be made to suffer in poverty when they seek our protection.”
Paul Power, Refugee Council of Australia CEO
Available for interview: call Elly Kohistani on 0432 809 244.
“In 2018, the Refugee Council of Australia and 15 other organisations jointly pleaded with then Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton to reverse the changes then being made to the SRSS program, warning that destitution, homelessness and mental health issues would increase among the people being removed from assistance. Our pleas were ignored and sadly our fears have been confirmed by what has happened since.
State governments and local councils now share our concerns, having seen the devastating social impacts in communities across Australia of people being denied the help they need because they hold the wrong visa.
We are pleading with the Albanese Government to act quickly to reverse the damage created by the previous government.”
Mayor Cr Jim Memeti, City of Greater Dandenong & Chair of the Local Government Mayoral Taskforce Supporting People Seeking Asylum
“The cuts to SRSS financial support made by the previous Federal Government put thousands of individuals and families in extreme hardship. Sadly, we hear every day of worsening poverty, mental health issues and worse in our local community.
The local governments in our Taskforce from across Australia also report similar stories of people who have been attempting to survive on nothing but local charity for too long.
We welcome commitments by the current Immigration and Citizenship Minister to restore and strengthen this support and urge the Federal Government to make it a priority in the October Federal Budget.”
Organisations calling for action
Asylum Seekers Centre
Refugee Council of Australia
Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project (BASP)
Refugee Advice & Casework Service (RACS)
Centre for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees (CARAD)
Ethnic Communities’ Council of Victoria (ECCV)
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC)
Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia
St Vincent de Paul Society NSW
Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania
World Wellness Group (WWG)
Local Government Mayoral Taskforce Supporting People Seeking Asylum