Cuts to support for people seeking asylum put pressure community organisations to help those made homeless

  • Today will see hundreds more people seeking asylum exited from basic but vital support in the latest round of Federal government cuts
  • These cuts could result in extra costs of up to $120 million for states and community organisations to help thousands who may face homelessness and destitution
  • The Refugee Council of Australia and its partner organisations are calling on the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship and Multicultural Affairs Hon David Coleman MP to immediately restore support and to stop forcing thousands of people seeking asylum in Australia into poverty

A new report coordinated by the Refugee Council of Australia has predicted that government cuts to basic but vital support for people seeking asylum in Australia will only shift pressure on to state governments and community organisations who will need to help those made homeless and destitute. The report was commissioned by the Roof Over My Head coalition which is a community movement made up of service organisations for people seeking asylum.

The report published today coincides with the latest round of cuts which will see the number of people exited from the Status Resolution Support Service program (SRSS) reach over 1,000 since August. The Refugee Council of Australia estimates that the states could be burdened with a cost of up to $120 million if the full extent of the proposed cuts are rolled out into 2019.

This figure is based on a high-cost scenario and is estimated as the cost to support people seeking asylum who are likely to be made homeless if they can no longer access the SRSS. Victoria would see the biggest impact with the highest number of SRSS recipients followed by New South Wales and Queensland.

As part of the report, a survey of organisations who support people seeking asylum found that almost four in five (79%) of the people they help were likely to face homelessness and destitution if they were no longer eligible for SRSS. According to the report, many families are already couch-surfing or living in over-crowded accommodation and would be forced into poverty without the SRSS safety net.

Community organisations are reporting an increase in people needing support as a result of the cuts and the demand is already too high for many of them to meet. Director of Humanitarian Services at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) in Victoria Sherrine Clark says the ASRC has helped over a hundred people in need since the latest cuts to SRSS.

“We will see families made homeless, destitute and forced to live on the street unless we see a reversal of this punitive policy. The scale of unmet need is distressing to volunteers and staff at the ASRC and the broader community – services supporting people seeking asylum are now at capacity due to the cuts to SRSS. Basic decency needs to be brought back to our community,” she said.

SRSS provides financial support of approximately $250 per week ($35 per day and only 89% of Newstart allowance), casework support, access to torture and trauma services and sometimes subsidised medication for people seeking asylum while they are applying and awaiting the government’s decision on their immigration status. The Federal government is currently exiting people from the program and cuts will see around 60% of recipients become ineligible for this basic support.

The most recent cuts are based on a revised eligibility criteria and began in August this year. Incremental cuts are being made each month and 8,000 people are expected to be exited, with hundreds more already deemed ineligible. As a result of the overhaul, people who do not meet a high threshold of vulnerability will no longer be eligible for support – even if they are unemployed and do not have any form of income.

The report’s lead author, John van Kooy, says it is not uncommon for people seeking asylum to face great hardship whilst they await their immigration status – with many already accessing emergency accommodation and food banks.

“What this report shows is that these families will only be pushed further into poverty and isolation as a result of changes to SRSS with huge pressure put on state governments and community organisations to support them. Worryingly, many of these service providers simply do not have the capacity to provide the help that’s needed,” he said.

Refugee Council of Australia CEO Paul Power says the crisis on Nauru has shone a spotlight on the government’s attitude towards refugees and people seeking asylum which needs to change.

“People may have had a traumatic time when they were forced to travel to Australia, are likely to be living in temporary accommodation and may be struggling to secure a job without access to English lessons. The SRSS program was introduced by the Government to help people in these situations resolve their immigration status: how will making people homeless help them to do this? It doesn’t make sense.

“Without needing Cabinet approval or legislation, the Minister for Immigration has the power to reverse these cuts so that people seeking asylum in Australia have access to very basic but vital support while they await their immigration status. What’s more, this will put people in a stronger position to apply for job opportunities.

“The Government needs to keep people seeking asylum out of poverty, destitution and homelessness rather than pushing them further into it. It is crucial that a more just and humane policy is implemented in Australia now,” he said.

The Refugee Council of Australia and its partners are calling for SRSS to be reinstated for all people seeking asylum regardless of their stage in the determination process.

Read full report here.

Other partner quotes:

CEO of the Australian Council of Social Service Dr Cassandra Goldie says the Federal government is failing in its responsibility to uphold human rights.

“We must not trap people seeking asylum in poverty. We are, at our heart, a compassionate country and we want everyone to have at least the basics in order to live in dignity. This is an appalling failure by the Australian Government to uphold human rights.”

CEO of the Asylum Seekers Centre in New South Wales, Frances Rush says the centre has seen more people looking for help.

“We are seeing a daily increase of people who are presenting with no financial means, often unwell, with great anxiety and in need of support whilst they continue to seek employment. These are people who had received the minimal Government allowance and now nothing. People ask why? We do everything we can to assist but we do not have the means to address the homelessness that so many people face. We are heartened by the growing groundswell of support for people seeking asylum as shown by the recent election of Kerryn Phelps in Wentworth. The community and we are saying enough!”

Full list of commissioning partner organisations for report:

  • Anglicare
  • Asylum Seekers Centre
  • Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
  • Australian Council of Social Service
  • Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project
  • CARAD – Centre for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees
  • Jesuit Refugee Service
  • Refugee Advice and Casework Service
  • Refugee Council of Australia
  • Romero Centre
  • St Vincent de Paul Society
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