Asylum seekers facing hunger and homelessness

30 April 2018
Erbil's Children: Syrian Refugees in Urban Iraq. Three young Syrian girls play in a rundown area of Erbil. The six-year-old in the middle lives with her family in a partially-constructed home. They fled from Syria after a tank entered their neighbourhood and began firing at houses. Photo: UNHCR/B. Sokol

An Urgent Update: People seeking asylum face hunger and homelessness after new cuts to government support program

Primary Concern

We are greatly concerned that the new changes to the government funded Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) will be cutting as many as 7,000 people off from critical support nationwide in the coming weeks.

In NSW, this could mean that hundreds, if not thousands, of people waiting for their protection claims to be heard and living lawfully in the Australian community, will be at-risk of homelessness, destitution and exploitation.

We oppose with these changes and we are calling on leaders across the Australian community to join us in standing up for people seeking safety, protection and a fair go.

Who we are

JRS is an international Catholic organisation that works to accompany, serve and advocate for the rights of refugees, people seeking asylum and other forcibly displaced people around the world.  In Australia, we work primarily with people seeking asylum through our casework, emergency relief, legal, and social/educational drop-in services based in Parramatta and our men’s shelter based in Kings Cross.  We are funded by donations and we are often the one of the few services working with people seeking asylum who need urgent assistance and who are not eligible for government funded support.

Who we are working with

JRS is working with a number of other asylum seeker/refugee focussed organisations, community services, lawyers, health and mental health services, and peak bodies to raise these issues with policy and decision makers and to develop a coordinated response to support those who will need assistance.

This includes: the NSW Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (NAPSA – made up of the Asylum Seekers Centre, House of Welcome, RACS and JRS,) CAPSA, the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, and the combined advocacy of the Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) and the Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS).

What is happening?

There are a number of policy changes that have come into effect over the last few months that have made it increasingly harder for people seeking asylum to access government funded support services and minimal financial assistance (89% of a NewStart Allowance or roughly $240/week for a single adult.) This includes:

  • Barring people from applying or cutting people off from support indefinitely if they are found to have transferred money overseas. This is a common practice for people who have vulnerable family members overseas.  For example, this includes many Rohingya trying to support family members in refugee camps in Bangladesh.
  • Barring people from applying or cutting people off from support if they are found to be studying fulltime (more than 16hrs/wk.) Studying is a pathway to work and people have had to turn down scholarships because of this policy change.

The latest changes that will come into effect from 9th April are focused on the Department of Home Affairs reassessing all 12,000 people currently receiving SRSS support payments to see if they are ‘work ready.’ An assessment of vulnerabilities will be conducted, but will likely see as many as 7,000 people nationwide, including those with undiagnosed mental health conditions and families with school-aged children, cut off from support with only 7-10 days-notice.

What does this mean for people seeking asylum?

It has always been difficult for people to meet the eligibility criteria for government funded support services, but these successively punitive changes could see hundreds, if not thousands, of people being made at-risk of homelessness, destitution and exploitation in a matter of weeks.

The sudden removal of support payments will not assist people in finding work or becoming self-sufficient, but will instead push already vulnerable people into situations of great risk and significant stress and trauma.

Charity services, homeless services, women’s refuges and other local services are already overstretched with many reporting an increase in the number of people accessing emergency relief, emergency accommodation, and foodbanks.  These services will not be able to assist the additional hundreds to thousands more people in need of support.

Australia prides itself on the ‘fair go’ and pushing people seeking asylum into poverty is neither fair nor just and does not meet the minimum standards of dignity and support that is accessible to the broader Australian community.  The vast majority of people seeking asylum are working and supporting themselves and their families, but that should not mean that those who cannot work should be forced into poverty and despair.

What can you do?

1. Advocate

  • Contact your local state or federal MP, Senator or the Minister for Home Affairs directly. There are key messages available from the Refugee Council of Australia and JRS that you can share. https://www.jrs.org.au/3790-2/

2. Welcome

3. Collect

  • Collect food, toiletries, sanitary pads, nappies and other items and donate First call 9098 9336 and talk to your local food bank in Parramatta (JRS),
  • Or South Granville (House of Welcome) Call 02 9727 9290

4. Donate

  • Host a fundraiser with your friends. People will need assistance to cover rent, food, medication and transport.

5. Employ

  • Are you hiring or do you know someone who is? Help keep people seeking asylum in safe and fair work by contacting the employment programs at JRS, House of Welcome or the Asylum Seekers Centre.
  • Ph either no above in 3. for more information

Once again we are most grateful for any support and solidarity with these most vulnerable people

With thanks to JRS.

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