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Separating refugee policy from politics

  • 06 June 2019


Mohammed and Rosie came to Australia from Iran seeking protection. Until late 2018, they were sleeping on a friend's lounge room floor. They each received $240 per week (89 per cent of the Newstart payment) as part of the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS), which helped them to buy food, clothing, and hygiene items, and pay a small amount in rent.

In November 2018, the government notified Mohammed and Rosie that their SRSS support would be withdrawn. They were very distressed by the news and anxious about the fact that they had not yet secured a job, despite their numerous attempts, or been able to find suitable housing.

The odds were never in their favour. Mohammed and Rosie are in their mid-60s, speak little English, and have had very little education. They are also suffering from debilitating long term illnesses. Mohammed was part of a community gardening group, which we hoped would assist him to build networks, develop new skills, and improve his mental health. But after his SRSS payments were cancelled, Mohammed could not afford the weekly commute and stopped attending. Without employment and a safety net, Mohammed and Rosie are homeless. They rely on food aid and emergency vouchers from JRS and other organisations to survive day-to-day.

Homelessness, hunger, enforced poverty, and unending limbo — these are ongoing realities for thousands of children, women, and men seeking Australia's protection irrespective of how or when they arrived. The government slashed the federal budget allocation for SRSS from $139.8 million in 2017 — 2018 to $52.6 million in 2019 — 2020, a reduction of more than 62 per cent. 13,299 people were on the program in February 2018, and only 5,888 remain in April 2019.

Many who have waited years for interviews with the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) or some form of merits review have been cut off and are having protection claims rejected. They now wait anywhere from six months to two years for court hearings.

Others have been found to be refugees and have access to Newstart and English language training. But the government's 2014 Legacy Caseload Bill, legislated with Clive Palmer's support, ensures that approximately 15,000 refugees in this group are given three to five year temporary protection visas with no effective prospects for permanent settlement.

The Bill also warrants that these refugees will not be permitted to bring their families to Australia. The deliberate removal of the right to family reunion