Jesuit Refugee Service on the COVID-19 front line

16 April 2020
JRS Australia Director Carolina Gottardo (right) receives food and supplies donated by St Ignatius' College, Riverview. Image: JRS Australia/Supplied.


The latest impacts of COVID-19 from on the ground in Western Sydney

COVID-19 is creating an avalanche of need on the ground. “More people are in crisis than ever before,” says Katie Spiroski, Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Casework Manager.

“Calls to our casework service have doubled in the space of two weeks. There are more than a hundred families and individuals on our waiting-lists running out of food, rent, or money for medical payments,” says Katie.

“Ninety percent of JRS’ caseworker phone-calls with clients involve discussions about homelessness and hopelessness. Eighty percent contain suicidal ideations.”

There is much uncertainty about the government’s response and clients feel anxious as to how to get by and support their families. Some have young children and others have relatives. They are in dire need of food and emergence relief and are feeling very anxious.

Key statistics are as follows: 

  • Job cuts – Many of the  people that JRS Australia’s Empowered to Work employment program has assisted in the last two years have lost jobs in the last ten days.
  • Foodbank shortages – Foodbank and emergency goods stocks (that already supported approximately 400 families and children with rice, flour, oil, dignity kits, nappies, and other essential products pre-COVID 19) are now being depleted every 72 hours.
  • Emergency support doubles – JRS Australia is now spending more than double on emergency relief payments for rent and essential medications for  the people we serve.

The employment situation for people seeking asylum is dire. “The people we serve are at the bottom of the list,” says JRS’ Employment Coordinator, Leonie Dyer.

“In the last two weeks, fifty-one people who were previously employed contacted me about losing their jobs. This includes entry level jobs in hospitality, security, cleaning, and tutoring,” continues Leonie.

One man was told to self-isolate without pay for fourteen days, and then told not to come back. Another young woman lost her job and is now at home caring for a sick parent. People seeking asylum studying at TAFE no longer have classes, and will graduate much later than expected. Upskilling is a huge priority for many.

As of yet, people seeking asylum who have lost jobs do not have access to any form of safety net.

“There is nothing in the government package at all for our clients,” said Leonie. “I’m worried,” says Leonie. “I just feel everything that we have worked towards for the last three years is unravelling.”


JRS Australia’s advocacy efforts: COVID-19 response must include everyone in our community

In these extraordinary times, JRS Australia calls on the Federal and State governments to extend a vital safety net to everyone living in the Australian community, regardless of their visa status.

“Many of the people we work with already live precarious and uncertain lives, and do not have access to support payments, public or community housing, mental health services and even adequate food at the best of times,” says JRS Australia Director, Carolina Gottardo.

“In the space of two weeks, we have seen a 100% increase in demand for our services at JRS Australia’s community centres in Western Sydney including for food, medicines and emergency relief. People are losing casual work, and are increasingly anxious about being able to pay rent, put food on the table, and buy essential medication.”

“There are more than half a million women, children, and men in this country, including more than 50,000 people seeking protection, who are at serious risk of homelessness and destitution because they do not have access to any form of safety net if they lose jobs…”

“What we see at JRS Australia’s Arrupe Place in Western Sydney from people seeking asylum and migrants in vulnerable situations is a story of exclusion exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis,” continues Carolina.

JRS Australia has released a preliminary discussion paper (PDFwhich outlines these impacts in more detail. It raises four key concerns, namely that:

  1. The combination of job losses and the absence of a safety net is increasing the number of people in homelessness and destitution.
  2. It is harder for people who are homeless to self-isolate
  3. Those without access to Medicare and subsidised medication are at higher risk of getting sick and may not be able to seek timely healthcare.
  4. Women on temporary visas are particularly vulnerable to domestic/family violence during the pandemic.

The paper also provides 9 key recommendations to Federal and State governments to resolve this issue.

The paper will be shared with key decision-makers and forms a key evidence base for a private letter being delivered to the Federal Government by more than 40 Catholic leaders – Bishops, Congregational heads, and CEOs of charities – this week.

As the pandemic unfolds, JRS Australia will continue to provide essential services to people in need, whilst advocating behind closed doors and publicly for everyone living in our community regardless of status not to be forgotten.

Read more on the issue through JRS’ full public statement and discussion paper.


How you can help in this time of need 

We thank every single person in the community who is helping us right now. In the absence of any federal government support to JRS Australia, this generosity is essential for refugees, people seeking asylum and migrants in vulnerable situations to have food, shelter and other essential support. We have to draw upon your kindness further.

Please help by:

  1. Giving to JRS Australia’s Emergency Cash Appeal. This money will go towards replenishing our foodbank, paying for medication, and rent, and supporting women out of domestic violence situations. To donate, please call (02) 9356 3888 or email or click here.
  2. Donating essential food and hygiene items to JRS Australia’s foodbank. To donate, please call (02) 9098 9336 or email
  3. Volunteering. We need people to act as drivers. Please call (02) 9098 9336 or email
  4. Keeping updated. Please follow our Facebook and Twitter pages for updates on the situation for refugees and people seeking asylum and our response.

Thank you for walking with refugees and people seeking asylum during this vulnerable and challenging time. Please stay safe.

In Peace,

JRS Australia

With thanks to JRS Australia.


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