February 2018

Govt urged to review changes to vital asylum support program

The Sisters of the Good Samaritan are calling on the Federal Government to urgently review proposed changes to a Government support program for people seeking asylum which will force vulnerable people, including families and children, into destitution and homelessness.

“The Sisters of the Good Samaritan are deeply concerned by the Government’s proposed changes to the Status Resolution Support Service which fail to recognise and respect the human dignity of all people,” said Congregational Leader Sister Patty Fawkner.

“These proposed changes, some of which are already impacting individuals and families living in our community, will leave vulnerable people without basic human necessities such as shelter, food and medical support.”

Patty said the proposed changes, which have been outlined by the Refugee Council of Australia, will put at risk the lives of hundreds of people who have already experienced trauma, many of whom are being further traumatised by the ongoing uncertainty of unresolved migration status.

“These individuals and families are living beside us and we cannot fail to be moved with compassion for the desperate situations they will face if the Status Resolution Support Service continues to be decimated through further exclusions and tightening of eligibility criteria,” she said.

“We understand that some people who will be excluded from support under the new criteria will also be unable to work, either due to restrictions of their visa, or due to significant health problems. These people are our neighbours and we abhor the cruelty and dehumanisation of the policies which would lead them into destitution and homelessness.

“We call on our Federal Government to urgently review the proposed policy changes and to create a humane and just support scheme for these very vulnerable people,” said Patty.

According to the Refugee Council of Australia, programs like the Status Resolution Support Service have for many years provided a basic safety net for people awaiting their final refugee status determination.

In a recent statement, the Refugee Council said that the Government’s proposed changes to the service will impact case management, income support (89% of Newstart payment amount) which enables people to pay rent, and access to specialist medical care, including torture and trauma counselling.

“The refugee sector is deeply concerned about the impact on the thousands of clients left without life-saving support,” the statement said.

“As the changes roll out and affect more people, a humanitarian crisis is looming. Organisations are already stretched and cannot provide for thousands more people at risk.”

Good Samaritan Sister Sarah Puls is the Casework Team Leader at Arrupe Place, a drop-in centre for asylum seekers in Western Sydney established by Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS). She is disturbed by the impact the Government’s “technical and complex” changes are already having on “some of the most vulnerable people in our community”.

“At JRS we have met many families in which the adults, some with newborn babies, cannot work because of significant health issues, and their payments have been cut and they are left with no income at all,” said Sarah.

“They are facing homelessness, hunger, and negative health impacts on all members of their family. With no income, no family in Australia and very limited community connections, they are having to seek help from charities and small community groups just to meet their most basic needs.”

Since the changes began, Sarah said that non-government organisations, including JRS, have been stretching their resources as much as they can, but the reality is that the donations they receive cannot meet the volume of the need before them.

“As these changes are put into place and support is cut from more and more people who have no other income, there could be many families facing destitution and children who will not be protected from hunger and homelessness,” said Sarah.

Sarah, like many of her colleagues who are supporting asylum seekers, feels frustrated and despairing.

“The thing I want the community to know is that these people are real human beings. They are somebody’s mother, or brother, or child. They came to Australia fleeing for their lives and, like anyone, they want to work and contribute and belong – and in the vast majority of cases they do. But sometimes they need support, like the rest of us.”

The Good Oil

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