Refugees and asylum seekers who do not receive government medical or income support are being supplied with crucial medicines thanks to a collaboration between The Sisters of the Good Samaritan Foundation and Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS).
The Good Sams Foundation Refugee Medical Fund assists JRS clients by providing Emergency Relief payments for critical medication or other health-related expenses that may otherwise be unattainable.
The need for such funding to help asylum seekers with their medical expenses was brought to the attention of the Foundation by Good Samaritan Sister Sarah Puls when she was working at JRS.
“It became clear that we needed a fund just for medical costs, because before we had that we had to draw from a general emergency fund, which also had to cover other pressing needs, such as accommodation and food. We had to continually weigh up all the different needs that asylum seekers have,” Sarah says.
“I remember one caseworker putting forward the situation of a man she’d just met who needed medication and the question was asked, ‘Is he going to die if he doesn’t get it?’
“These were the sorts of terrible questions that had to be asked because the emergency fund was called on for so many competing crucial needs.
“It was obvious we needed funding that was set aside for medical costs, that wouldn’t get eaten up in other areas. I thought we could approach the Good Sams on this one because the Good Sams Foundation had identified assisting asylum seekers and refugees as one of its funding priorities.”
Maeve Brown, Programs and Service Delivery Manager with JRS, says the Refugee Medical Fund plays an important role in their ministry to people seeking asylum in Australia as they have little to no support options outside of the asylum-seeking, charity sector.
People seeking asylum in Australia are ineligible for almost all forms of government-funded support. The only government-funded program that is available to them is almost impossible to access because of strict exclusion criteria which demands a high threshold for evidence of financial hardship and health issues. This requires documentation that can be difficult for clients to obtain.
Some people seeking asylum, particularly those at the latter stages of the visa application process, are also without the right to work so are unable to support themselves or access Medicare.
“Medical needs have always been something we’ve struggled to cover,” Maeve says. “Because people seeking asylum can be on various types of visas with various conditions, they rely largely on charities to fund their ongoing medication needs.
“These medications are often crucial for people with serious conditions such as diabetes or a heart condition. We often see people having to make the choice between food, rent and medication.”
In the 12 months to December 2020, a total of 41 clients/families, comprising 64 adults and 26 children, were assisted by the Good Sams Foundation Refugee Medical Fund through the provision of 106 payments totalling $6380.
Maeve says that given the often long-term nature of clients’ health issues, coupled with little to no alternative support, the same clients frequently re-present to JRS for urgent payments for medication.
“The medical fund has been a great help in meeting the needs of our clients,” she says. “It’s great to have that ongoing support from the Good Samaritan Sisters and to be able to work together with them in this important area.”
The Good Samaritan Foundation was established in 1999 to provide ongoing finances and resources to the work established by Sisters of the Good Samaritan. Donations over $2 are tax deductible in Australia and can be made by visiting www.goodsamsfoundation.org.au/donate.
This article was published in The Good Oil, April 2021.