Budget leaves asylum seekers behind

13 October 2020 | Posted In: News

A coalition of refugee organisations has condemned the Federal Government’s decision to slash support to people seeking asylum in the 2020-21 Budget. This decision, they say, puts over 100,000 people, including around 16,000 children, at further risk of homelessness and destitution.

The organisations, which represent a coalition of over 200 others, have been running the Nobody Left Behind campaign since May this year. The campaign has repeatedly called for ongoing support to be provided to 100,000 people seeking asylum who have been left without lifelines during the COVID-19 pandemic and subsequent economic fallout.

The Budget, however, not only failed to provide support during this time of crisis, but halved the existing amount allocated for support for this group. This indicates that more people will be excluded from support and left without a safety net over the coming 12 months.

“Australia is at risk of an impending homelessness crisis, which the Federal Government has failed to prevent. Since the pandemic hit, we — and many others — have repeatedly warned our political leaders of the impact that this is having on refugees and people seeking asylum,” said Paul Power, CEO of the Refugee Council. “Emergency relief, which only equates to a very small amount per person, is a paltry substitute for the ongoing support desperately needed by these people — including many families with children. This is a serious abrogation of the Federal Government’s responsibility to provide for vulnerable members of our society at this time of need.”

The Federal Government’s recent decision to release people brought to Australia for medical care into the community, cutting them off from support in the process, is an indication of this, already increasing this cohort by 500 people. They are now expected to find work in the middle of a recession, despite many having ongoing serious health issues, a lack of professional networks and/or a low level of English, having been denied access to English language programs.

People seeking asylum are ineligible for JobSeeker and JobKeeper and many were cut off from the SRSS payment when the government changed the eligibility criteria in 2018. Thousands have lost work since the start of the pandemic, particularly given they are largely employed on temporary and casual contracts in heavily impacted industries, such as hospitality. Excluded from most Federal Government support, many have relied on charities and others in their community to eat and pay the rent. Crucially, many have only been able to maintain property rentals thanks to state and territory moratoriums on rental evictions, which have recently ended in most of Australia.

“How can someone feed their children, keep their phone connected or a roof over their head without a regular income? People want to work and support themselves but when the jobs have disappeared and there is no Federal Government payment available, people are quickly falling into crisis. Homelessness is on the increase and a one-off emergency relief payment does not prevent destitution. People seeking asylum are part of our community and they deserve our support,” said Frances Rush, CEO of the Asylum Seekers Centre.

Service providers across the country have reported at least a 300 percent increase in the need for emergency food and rental relief for people seeking asylum since the pandemic began.  This demand has only increased as time has passed. Even in states which have maintained a low level of virus transmission, the demand has continued to grow as people have been unable to regain former employment, with charities unable to sustain the level of need.  Emergency relief committed by state and federal governments falls short of providing people with the support needed to pay for rent and food until the crisis passes.

A recent report predicted that almost 19,000 refugees and people seeking asylum would lose their jobs in the course of the economic downturn, and that unemployment in this cohort would double. The report predicted that as a result, 14,000 people seeking asylum would become homeless. The report outlines significant social and economic costs for the country as a result, including a potential bill of $200 million/year for state governments. With fresh cuts announced in the Budget, the number of people affected will only increase.