Anglicare Says Support Service Cuts Are Hurting Asylum Seekers
14 March 2018 at 6:13 pm
Asylum seekers are experiencing distress and further hardship because of recent cuts to a government support service, according to Anglicare.
The Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) is a federal government program for people seeking a protection visa in Australia.
It provides income support (about 89 per cent of Newstart Allowance), case management and access to torture and trauma counselling for those experiencing financial hardship.
The Department of Home Affairs recently changed the eligibility requirement for SRSS, meaning those who undertake full-time study, including studying English or vocational training, are facing cuts to their income support.
Anglicare research and advocacy officer Zoe Paleologos told Pro Bono News that Anglicare and other organisations in the refugees sector believe these changes are having a negative impact on the asylum seeker community.
“We come across so many people who are trying to settle in Australia and move on with their lives after they’ve come here seeking safety,” Paleologos said.
“And for many of the people who are in this situation, they’ve been here for at least five years living in the community, and they’ve been trying to establish themselves. Many have been doing that quite well but it’s really hard when you try to make plans for the future.
“So for people who have made some attempts to start studying or continue their studies, to be told that the goalposts are changing again and they need to change their plans, it makes it really hard to move forward and further their career here in Australia.”
Paleologos said there was an assumption that people seeking asylum in Australia could work if studying full-time, which failed to consider that many “cannot find appropriate jobs without recognised qualifications or a certain level of English proficiency”.
She said the overall impact of the cuts were that people were unable to move on with furthering their education and employment.
“We’ve been speaking to people in the community about the way it’s been impacting them. [One person] said they came here over four years ago and because of the government policies for people seeking asylum, [she was] not able to make an application for protection for several years,” Paleologos said.
“She only just made her application last year, but she’s still waiting for that resolution of her case and in the meantime is on SRSS payments. For several years she was denied the right to work but then when she finally was allowed to work, she worked in hospitality to save up the money so that she could do an advanced course in English.
“So she finally got to the point where she was ready to do that, enrolled, but then was told due to these payments changes if she’s someone who’s eligible to be working full-time then she has to go back to that and is not able to do her advanced English course.
“So it’s impacting people who are making genuine efforts to move forward in the community and contribute so much to society.”
Paleologos said Anglicare would like to see some key policy changes to benefit not only asylum seekers, but the Australian community in general.
“What would be great to see would be a decent level of income support for people who are contributing to the community and that includes wanting to further their education and employment prospects as well,” she said.
“Many of these people have already been living in the community for five years. They have so much to contribute and they just want to move forward and be able to work and study here in Australia.
“So the key thing would be a decent income for people who want to study and contribute in Australia whilst they’re waiting for their refugee status to be resolved. As part of that, we’d also want to see a fair and faster processing of visas for people.”
These changes come as Citizenship Minister Alan Tudge has revived a government push to make new migrants sit a tougher English language test to be eligible for citizenship.
Paleologos said Anglicare did not support this push.
“We, along with so many others in the community, recognise that migrants have so much to offer Australia even if their English isn’t at a highly advanced level, and the existing citizenship arrangements require a prospective citizen to be able to sit the test – which means that they must have a good level of English anyway,” she said.
“So we would say that that is sufficient in being able to assess someone’s basic to good level of English in the community. And so we’ve seen generations of migrants and humanitarian entrants be able to contribute so positively to the community, even as they progress their English.
“So a barrier or a hurdle in being able to obtain citizenship simply because you’re English isn’t at an advanced level, is really unfortunate because we know that people have so much to contribute as Australian citizens whilst they continue improving their English.”
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) said changes to the SRSS meant that those seeking asylum who were waiting for applications to be processed could not pay rent, access mental health care or buy food.
ASRC director of advocacy and campaigns, Jana Favero said: “The government is confusing us by saying that people need university level English to become Australian, yet in a cruel twist of irony, the government is preventing people studying English by removing support services.
“The statements confuse the calculated cruelty to people who have fled their homes due to war and conflict and want to build a life in Australia with an attempt to bolster and expand contradictory policies.
“If you don’t support people to meet basic needs, how can they learn to speak English and pass the government’s own proposed language test? How can people find jobs to support themselves if they can’t up-skill?”