Last year, the five people pictured gave their time and energy to raise funds for the Asylum Seeker Project by participating in Run Melbourne, a ‘fun run’ fundraiser held annually in Melbourne’s CBD since 2008. The Asylum Seeker Project (ASP), formerly Hotham Mission ASP, has recently transferred to come under the umbrella of Lentara UnitingCare. (See page 7 to read more about this change.)
Australia currently hosts 21,805 refugees – 0.21 per cent of the global total – according to the Refugee Council of Australia (RCA). Of the 10.55 million refugees under UNHCR’s mandate, 75 per cent come from just 10 countries of origin.
Afghanistan and Iraq are among the most represented of those seeking asylum in Australia. Considering our support of the US-led “war on terror” in both countries – which has had devastating consequences and casualties – this is significant.
For many, the attitude towards asylum seekers is they arrive ‘illegally’ in Australia and simply take money, jobs and space from Australians. This view is not only factually incorrect (it is not illegal to seek asylum in Australia), it also fails to acknowledge the value refugees add to our society.
On its website, the RCA states: “By definition, refugees are survivors. They have survived because they have the courage, ingenuity and creativity to have done so. These are qualities which we value in Australia. The challenge for Australia is to assist newly arrived refugees to process the experiences of their past and rebuild their lives in Australia. If we do this we will reap the benefits of the qualities and experiences they bring to Australia.”
Organisations such as the ASP need to exist to support asylum seekers because they are not entitled to the same financial support as citizens or permanent residents of Australia. The government’s Asylum Seeker Assistance (ASA) Scheme, administered though the Red Cross, provides assistance to some (but not all) asylum seekers while their visa application is being processed.
The scheme offers support to cover basic living expenses but, despite popular opinion to the contrary, the rate is below Centrelink benefits. Considering UnitingCare has spoken out about the inadequacy of Newstart, it is not hard to see that the scheme is less than enough to survive on.
And while some asylum seekers are granted permission to work while awaiting the outcome of their visa application, others are not.
If refugees do not feel safe returning to their country, are not allowed to work while awaiting refugee status and are not granted adequate income support, the result is obvious – imposed poverty.
In light of this, non-profits, churches and passionate volunteers must fill the gaps.
It is not surprising that so many Australians feel moved to do what they can to support those who arrive here seeking refuge.
If you want to join them and support ASP by entering in Run Melbourne go to runmelbourne.com.au/start.php to register – online entries close July 17. For more information on Mission and Service funding please visit: www.victas.uca.org.au/givingisliving