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Refugee Council of Australia
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Home > Reports > With empty hands: How the Australian Government is forcing people seeking asylum into destitution

With empty hands: How the Australian Government is forcing people seeking asylum into destitution

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With empty hands we cannot do anything. It’s like you ask me to paint this wall without giving me any paint and brush and I ask ‘how can I do it’ and you respond ‘I don’t know, just do it’.

— Ali, seeking asylum in Perth

For years, Australia has been punishing people who need our protection. We have been turning back the boats which were carrying them to safety, and shipping and warehousing them in Nauru and Papua New Guinea. If they make it to mainland Australia, we have been detaining them indefinitely and, once they are released, leaving them to struggle in the community without support.

There have been many reports about our policies of offshore processing and detention. This report focuses on what happens to tens of thousands of people seeking asylum who are living in our community, and the policies that drive these highly vulnerable people to the margins of society. It follows our 2015 report which explored community views on asylum policy. This report explains how people seeking asylum have been, in various ways, denied access to work, study, income and much-needed health services. The kinds of services and supports available to people seeking asylum change depending on how and when they came to Australia, the stage of the process they are in, and the visas they have (or did have). Services and supports also vary between and within States and Territories. Even then, the conditions of their visas (if any) often seem arbitrary, and there is little to no transparency in decision-making. On top of this, there are frequent, often unannounced, changes to people’s eligibility for services and supports.

In 2018, more policy changes are likely to leave thousands more without any income or government-funded support. As well, policies that punished people seeking asylum increasingly apply to those who came by plane, as well as by boat. These changes add to existing policies that are already driving thousands of people to destitution. Every day, more and more people needing our protection are forced to rely on overstretched and overwhelmed communities and non-governmental organisations to survive.

This report reflects the voices of people seeking asylum and those who work with them, gathered through our annual consultations in recent years. People have told us about the impact of these policies on their health, their lives and their children. Service providers have also told us of the unprecedented strain on charities and non-governmental organisations, and on the ordinary Australians who volunteer, support and work for them.

People who need our protection should not be punished for seeking it. They should not be forced to choose between starving in the streets or returning home to persecution. They should not be treated as if they are not human, simply because they are not (yet) Australian.

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