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Community Sector Protests Cuts to Asylum Seeker Support Payments

18 June 2018 at 4:23 pm
Luke Michael
Community sector leaders have gathered in Canberra to protest cuts to asylum seeker support payments, as a new report reveals that government policy is driving people seeking asylum into destitution.

Luke Michael | 18 June 2018 at 4:23 pm


Community Sector Protests Cuts to Asylum Seeker Support Payments
18 June 2018 at 4:23 pm

Community sector leaders have gathered in Canberra to protest cuts to asylum seeker support payments, as a new report reveals that government policy is driving people seeking asylum into destitution.

Leaders from 10 national NGOs, along with a delegation of asylum seekers and community members, gathered at Parliament House on Monday to urge the federal government to stop cuts to the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS).

This service provides asylum seekers with a basic safety net of support, including fortnightly payments of less than $35 a day (89 per cent of Newstart) and casework support.

Since August 2017, SRSS changes have been implemented ­– without community consultation ­­­­­– which have dramatically reduced the number of people eligible for support.

Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) CEO, Paul Power, told Pro Bono News that Monday’s gathering came in the midst of possible further cuts.

“Since August last year there’s been a series of cuts to Status Resolution Support Service and the Department of Home Affairs has foreshadowed a series of additional cuts,” Power said.

“Their argument is that people who can work should work to support themselves. We agree with them entirely. But what we disagree with is the idea that the people who haven’t found work and who have no income should face cuts.

“And so we’re trying to convince the department and the minister for home affairs not to proceed with [these cuts].”

Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) CEO, Dr Cassandra Goldie, said that these cuts would devastate communities and affect more than 13,000 people nationally.

“The government is cutting off the sole source of income for thousands of people seeking asylum. People will lose their housing, their ability to feed their families, and will be forced to access emergency relief,” Goldie said.

“The Australian government has a responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to a minimum level of income if they are in need. Removing SRSS from people seeking asylum shirks this responsibility.

“This is a human rights issue and we urge the government to reverse this decision to ensure that individuals and families are not left destitute.”

The gathering comes as RCOA released a new report, examining how the Australian government is forcing people seeking asylum into destitution.

“Every day, more and more people needing our protection are forced to rely on overstretched and overwhelmed communities and non-governmental organisations to survive,” the report said.

The report said there was a mental health crisis among people seeking asylum.

“People have told us again and again, with ever-increasing urgency, that people seeking asylum are feeling increasingly hopeless, trapped and uncertain about the future. They are dealing with the fallout of punitive policies, broken relationships, and constant anxiety, fear and social isolation,” the report said.

“People seeking asylum have spoken to us of their hopelessness and their depression. A growing number has resorted to self-harm and even suicide.

“Many people have spoken about how the policies that prevent family reunion and their employment have led to the breakdown of relationships with families living overseas in situations of extreme danger and poverty.”

The report also noted that these recent changes have put a strain on the community sector and affected the wellbeing of volunteers.

“Charities have been working long hours, usually with a small number of paid staff and a pool of dedicated volunteers, to make sure people have a roof over their heads for the night and enough food to survive,” the report said.

“However, in recent years many organisations have also told us of the toll this has taken on their staff. The voluntary sector is rarely informed about policy changes and almost never consulted.

“This creates an environment of uncertainty and significant challenges for future planning, including fundraising and recruitment.”

Jesuit Refugee Service CEO Carolina Gottardo, said her organisation was struggling.

“We are really struggling to meet the growing demand for safe, affordable, and sustainable housing, but also for basic necessities such as food, clothing, sanitary pads and nappies,” Gottardo said.

“While we are all doing the best we can, with the deep impact of these cuts, it’s just not enough. JRS staff and volunteers say it’s like nothing they’ve seen before.”

Brad Halse, the director of communications at The Salvation Army, agreed there was a severe strain on services.

“We already see a disproportionately high number of people seeking asylum needing to access our services across the country. We are therefore greatly concerned that even more will have to do so when these proposed cuts to the SRSS are introduced,” Halse said.

“There is a very real chance that we and other support services will not be able to meet the increased need caused by this proposed change. Put bluntly, it will cause further destitution.”

Savernaz, a young woman cut from the SRSS program recently because she is studying full-time on a scholarship at Swinburne University, was present at the Canberra gathering on Monday.

She said she wanted people to know about the adverse effect these cuts were having on thousands of asylum seekers.

“It’s important for me to come to Canberra and speak up about this issue because I want everyone to know the real consequences of the SRSS cuts and I don’t want to see anyone else going through what I went through,” Savernaz said.

“Something has constantly been going on in my mind over the past months – why did they make me choose between studying and surviving? And why did I have to suffer just because I wanted to study?”  

In wake of this community sector backlash, Liberal MP Ted O’Brien told reporters on Monday that the government’s agenda was not just around keeping Australia’s border safe, but about “looking after the end-game”.

“It’s making sure whether those in need are looked after whether they be new immigrants or Australians who have been here for multiple generations,” O’Brien said.

“[The way] we treat people in this country is a good reason why Australia has such a fine reputation internationally.”

Luke Michael  |  Journalist  |  @luke_michael96

Luke Michael is a journalist at Pro Bono News covering the social sector.

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