Refugee Council of Australia
Charcoal drawing of open hands

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

Rajan’s life in Australia

Rajan (not his real name) came to Australia in 2013 by boat. He left behind his wife and two young children in an Indian refugee camp. He was well aware of the dangers of the journey ahead and did not want them to embark on such a journey.

Rajan arrived on Christmas Island and was detained. He spent almost 2 years being transferred from one detention facility to another. He tells us that he “lived” in almost all Australian states and territories, but never saw anything outside of detention.

While in a remote detention facility, Rajan developed a health issue that became increasingly difficult to manage. Eventually, he was released into ‘community detention’, meaning he was living in the community but did not have a visa. Rajan needed to live in a place specified by the Australian Government and could not lawfully work or study. As someone who worked and provided for his family all his life, Rajan found it very difficult not being able to work and send money to his family in India. He wanted to study English, but was told he was not eligible.

More than 2 years after he came to Australia, Rajan had not yet been able to apply for refugee status. His caseworker told him that he could not do so until he was invited to do so by the Minister, which he could not understand.

In mid-2016, Rajan was granted a bridging visa E with work rights. At first, that gave him a glimmer of hope. Rajan, however, struggled to find a job in Sydney. His English was not good, and his bridging visa was short term. He also lost access to his intensive casework support under the support program, and had very little contact with his service provider.

Determined to work, Rajan moved to a regional area in another state where there were jobs in an abattoir. He worked long hours almost every day. Due to his move, he was transferred to another service provider. Rajan did not have a caseworker and was told to contact the agency’s hotline if he had questions or experienced an issue. As he was no longer getting income support, he also didn’t need to provide financial reports to the new service provider.

In mid-2017, Rajan discovered that a letter he had received in English was asking him to apply for a protection visa by 1 October 2017. He had very little time left and no access to funded legal advice. He received some support from a community legal centre and from the Tamil community and managed to apply just before the deadline.

Rajan is still waiting to hear about his application. He has been told that he is no longer eligible to be on the support program. He is told if he loses his job, it is highly unlikely he can apply to receive income support on the program, because he has been sending money overseas. Rajan is frustrated. He has been away from his family for so many years. Sending them money to help them survive is the least he can do. Was he expected not to support his children? “What father does this?” Rajan asks.

The nature of his work has taken a toll on Rajan’s fragile health. Until now, Rajan could visit his specialist without needing to pay the gap payment and could access subsidised medication through his support program. He now has to purchase the medication at full price and has to pay the specialist gap payments, which he cannot afford.

Rajan told us about his sleepless nights thinking about his family, their destitution and whether he will ever see them again. With no saving, Rajan cannot even afford to buy a ticket to go back to larger cities, where there might be some community support.

Be a champion for refugee rights

Join our mailing list and be the first to receive active resources. We need you to show Australia cares about refugees.


  • Category

  • Topic