30,000 Refugees Living In Poverty, Suicide Risk, Due To Policy Black Hole
Over 30,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Australia are denied basic support services and kept apart from their families, with experts warning of poverty and suicide concerns.
The Australian Human Rights Commission (HRC) published a report Wednesday describing what it says is poverty, poor living conditions and emotional stress experienced by refugees and asylum seekers who arrived between 2009 and 2013.
They are denied access to support services like Medicare and welfare, the HRC said, and kept separate from their families, due to an arbitrary bureaucratic decision.
They are part of a group referred to as the 'Legacy Caseload' -- the last group of asylum seekers who tried to reach Australia and were allowed to stay in the country, before the decision to send all boat arrivals to offshore detention was enacted by then-Prime Minister Kevin Rudd.
People in this group have complained of prolonged delays in the processing of their asylum claims. While they wait, many are stuck in limbo without access to working rights, social services or Medicare.
Many rely on charity and scarce government payments such as the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) payments to make their way -- although the government has cut the budget for these payments significantly in the past two years, and the HRC said the payments "fall well below the poverty line".
The budget for SRSS payments was cut from $139 million in 2017/18 to $56 million in 2019/20.
Around 9000 people from the Legacy Caseload haven't even had their applications for substantive visas processed, despite having been in Australia for up to 10 years.
"These people face prolonged delays in assessing their refugee claims, with limited government suport to meet their health and other needs," said human rights commissioner Edward Santow.
"They risk severe deterioration in their living conditions and mental health, with many at higher risk of suicide."
Carolyn Graydon, principal lawyer for the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), told 10 daily that people in this position can "unravel" from the stress.
"We do have critical incidents almost daily in our centre from people who are just at breaking point...it's the uncertainty that gnaws away at people," Graydon said.
In a statement, the department defended decisions to restrict access to services for these asylum seekers and refugees, as well as outlining that these people may be eligible to access welfare, health and education opportunities in some circumstances.
In addition to psychological issues, many in the Legacy Caseload group are said to not receive adequate medical care for physical problems.
The ability to reunite with family members is also limited for these refugees and asylum seekers. Graydon claimed people in this group are often "bounced" between courts in drawn-out processes and given very little understanding of their rights when it comes to disputing decisions or clearing up misunderstandings.
In addition, poverty has driven many of these individuals and families to homelessness, further eroding their ability to remain fighting in the legal application process.
Santow called on the Australian government to "improve human rights protections for these vulnerable people."
The HRC wants the government to streamline processes to determine whether an individual is a refugee (improving the so-called 'fast-track' application procedures) as well as improving support for people on bridging visas, so they can avoid homelessness.
The HRC also demands people whose applications have been denied get the opportunity to apply to the Administrative Appeals Tribunal for a review. They also ask that no asylum seeker is involuntarily removed from Australia until this occurs.
In a statement, the department said it would "continue to administer current legislation and international treaty obligations which involve the removal unlawful non-citizens from Australia."
"This includes removing unlawful non-citizens who have been found not to be owed protection by Australia under the ‘fast track’ process," Home Affairs said.
The HRC also recommend the Department of Home Affairs establishes a support service specifically for people waiting in this position.
"While they wait for their legal situation to be resolved, many people in the Legacy Caseload are at risk of poverty, with inadequate support to maintain secure housing and care," Santow said.
"The government should ensure these people have the basic support needed to protect them against such harm."