Asylum Seeker Funding Appeal Reaches Target in Record Time
Wednesday, 1st March 2017 at 11:12 am
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) has raised $400,000 in just five days of a 14-day fundraising campaign to pay human rights lawyers to provide legal support for more than 1,000 asylum seekers in Australia.
The fundraising campaign called #KeepThemSafe aims to provide legal support for 1,150 people seeking asylum who the ASRC said were currently at risk.
Last week the Turnbull government launched what the ASRC described as “an unprecedented attack around 12,000 people seeking asylum who arrived by sea to Australia between August 2012 and December 2013”.
ASRC CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis told Pro Bono News: “After waiting over four years to be invited to apply for asylum, these people have received letters from the government with as little as 30 days to lodge their refugee application.
“At a time where 90 per cent of all funding for legal assistance has been cut by the government, people seeking asylum are now forced to complete an almost impossible task – a complex legal application with 116 questions all in English.
“And now the government is pressuring people to complete their applications without adequate access to critical legal support. If people don’t lodge their application in time the government has threatened to take away their right to apply for asylum in Australia, cut off all income support and not renew their bridging visa when it expires, meaning people lose access to Medicare and their right to work.
“It was a pretty dark week for the refugees and the sector last week.”
But he said the quick response to his “good, old-fashioned fundraising campaign” had been “absolutely humbling.”
“The fundraising task was daunting. We had no idea how the community was going to react but we have been absolutely overwhelmed by the concern and generosity of people. Most of these [donors] didn’t even know these people [refugees] existed. They know about those people on Nauru and Manus,” he said.
“People resonated with the thought that: ‘This is really unfair and deliberate cruelty.’”
The $400,000 raised will pay for five lawyers to assist with the application lodgements.
Karapanagiotidis said the ASRC had 40 people already needing assistance to lodge their applications for asylum within the next 14 days or risk homelessness and, because of the fast response by donors, the ASRC has already recruited two of the five lawyers to begin work.
The ASCR was also flooded with offers of volunteer assistance to help process the claims.
The @ASRC1 has 14 days to raise $400,000 to fund 5 human rights lawyers to keep 1,150 people safe.
— Kon Karapanagiotidis (@Kon__K) February 23, 2017
He said the campaign relied on “old-school fundraising”.
“Our entire advertising budget was less than $5,000. This is the entirety of the campaign. One email done by our marketing and comms manager, one paid advertisement… and $1,000 on Facebook advertising… is all we did,” he said.
He said streaming commentary on Facebook and Twitter over the weekend allowed his team of volunteers to keep the fundraising momentum going.
“[We engaged] probably 300 times in four days. We used transparency, engagement and effort,” he said.
“The stakes were high for us. If the money wasn’t there we were still going to do it anyway. It was terrifying because it was going to plunge us into a potential financial crisis because where do you find 400,000 as a charity. You would have to take whatever reserves you had.”
The ASRC said it was still taking donations towards the #KeepThemSafe campaign to fund the additional costs associated with supporting 1,150 people to lodge their refugee applications.
The additional funds are expected to support a dedicated paralegal coordinator for new emergency Sunday legal clinics, cover the mandatory $35 fee for all refugee applications for up to 850 people, cover the cost of training over 100 new legal volunteers, and pay for onsite interpreters and translators working with legal documents that are used in proving people’s refugee claim.
On the back of the fundraising success, the ASCR said it was also launching its advocacy campaign.
“The next step is to build a movement. This is never about the money this is about the human rights of refugees and… now that we have got the lawyers to keep them safe, we need policy change,” Karapanagiotidis said.
“We‘re asking [our donors] today to write a letter to Mr Turnbull and we are hoping for 12,000 letters asking him to reverse what is an arbitrary, discretionary policy decision and to stop enforcing these deadlines.”
Not-for-profit law service Justice Connect is supporting the campaign saying the assistance of trained lawyers is essential and urged people to continue to fund the #KeepThemSafe campaign.
“For people who have experienced trauma, fled persecution, and do not speak English, this is overwhelming. It is also grossly unfair, unjust and inhumane,” Justice Connect’s referral service manager Alan Yang said.
“This work has never been more urgent. Our friends at RACS, Refugee Legal and the ASRC are working around the clock to help. But thousands of asylum seekers may miss the application deadline, or be forced to submit applications without the help of a lawyer – applications that have a greater chance of failure.”