Dignity not destitution for people seeking asylum

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Thousands of people who have come to Australia seeking asylum are now at risk of losing access to critical services and basic financial support under new Government changes.

It is feared that drastic reductions to the number of people eligible for support under the Status Resolution Support Services Program (SRSS) could create enormous hardship for already vulnerable people.

The Uniting Church in Australia joins other refugee advocates in calling for the harsh changes to be reversed.

“We have a moral obligation to support people coming to Australia seeking safety and protection,” said Uniting Church President Stuart McMillan.

“People depend on these payments and support services to rebuild their lives. Like us, they want freedom, safety and the ability to care for their families.”

“They deserve to live with dignity – not be forced into destitution.”

The SRSS Program supports people living in Australia while their application for protection is being assessed – a process which can take between 2-10 years.

It provides a basic living allowance (usually 89% of Newstart allowance, or $247 per week), help to find housing and access to torture and trauma counselling.

Currently about 12,000 people living in Australia access this support. New criteria introduced by Department of Home Affairs from the start of April will mean current recipients who are assessed as being fit for work could be transitioned off the program.

Reports have suggested that up to 7000 people might lose access to the payments.

Organisations that support people seeking asylum say many of their clients are already coming to their doors for help with rent, food, medical services and other basic necessities, and these changes will only plunge them further into crisis.

The Uniting Church joins with others urging for the services to be restored. One such organisation that supports refugees and asylum seekers is Uniting Vic.Tas.

The Uniting refugee program includes the Welcome Centre in Brunswick, which is housed in a Uniting Church hall donated rent-free with its utility bills paid. This an essential safe space for people who have been through harrowing ordeals. They can use the computers, attend an excursion or English class, ask for advice or just socialise and build friendships. The visitors regularly cook and share meals, learning about a range of cultures and cuisines from each other.

The program also runs a specialised intensive case support service where those most in need can access safe housing, Myki cards, living allowances, food parcels and material aid.

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