JRS Australia joins NGO leaders and community groups gathering in Canberra today to highlight looming humanitarian crisis in our communities

For Immediate Release – JRS Australia joins NGO leaders and community groups gathering in Canberra today to highlight looming humanitarian crisis in our communities, leaders from ten national NGOs, along with a delegation of people seeking asylum and community members, will gather at Parliament House on today to implore the Australian Government to stop cuts that will lead to a humanitarian crisis in our communities.

Download the media release here

The Turnbull government is cutting life-saving supports, including basic financial assistance and torture and trauma counselling, for people seeking asylum who have been waiting for years for decisions on their refugee claims.

Over 13,000 people nationally, including families with children, are at risk of losing all income support and are at risk of being left homeless and hungry.

“A preventable humanitarian crisis looms in our communities across Australia: this Government-created crisis will see people in our neighbourhoods, schools and communities thrown on to the streets, said Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) CEO, Paul Power.

“This calculated cruelty denies people seeking asylum living in our community their basic human rights and dignity. It goes against everything that Australia stands for: the fair go, an egalitarian society, decency and dignity for all.”

As people seeking asylum cannot access mainstream support services, the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) program provides them with a basic safety net of support. The service includes fortnightly payments (89% of Newstart, less than $35 a day) and casework support.

Under the changes, people on SRSS who have the right to work and do not meet a very high threshold of vulnerability will be exited from the program, losing all financial support. This will happen even if they are unemployed, and they will not be given further assistance to find work.

Australian Council of Social Services (ACOSS) CEO, Cassandra Goldie, said that these cuts will devastate communities.

“The government is cutting off the sole source of income for thousands of people seeking asylum. People will lose their housing, their ability to feed their families, and will be forced to access emergency relief.

“The Australian Government has a responsibility to ensure that everyone has access to a minimum level of income if they are in need. Removing SRSS from people seeking asylum shirks this responsibility. This is a human rights issue and we urge the government to reverse this decision to ensure that individuals and families are not left destitute.”

The number of people eligible for support has reduced dramatically since August 2017, when the Government made changes to the SRSS program without consulting service providers or peak bodies.

Many are now coming to organisations who receive no government funding, such as Jesuit Refugee Service. As its CEO, Carolina Gottardo, said: “We are really struggling to meet the growing demand for safe, affordable, and sustainable housing, but also for basic necessities such as food, clothing, sanitary pads and nappies. While we are all doing the best we can, with the deep impact of these cuts, it’s just not enough. JRS staff and volunteers say it’s like nothing they’ve seen before.”

Director of Communications at The Salvation Army, Brad Halse, says similarly: “We already see a disproportionately high number of people seeking asylum needing to accessing our services across the country. We are therefore greatly concerned that even more will have to do so when these proposed cuts to the SRSS are introduced.

“There is a very real chance that we and other support services will not be able to meet the increased need caused by this proposed change.  Put bluntly, it will cause further destitution,” he said.

A significant number of people currently in the SRSS program are likely to be refugees who will remain in Australia for years to come. The changes are forcing already vulnerable people into destitution, particularly when many are likely to become long-term residents of Australia.

One such person is Sarvenaz, who was cut off from the SRSS program in February because she is studying full-time on a scholarship at Swinburne University. She is part of the media conference and delegation to Canberra.

“It’s important for me to come to Canberra and speak up about this issue because I want everyone to know the real consequences of the SRSS cuts and I don’t want to see anyone else going through what I went through, she said.

“Something has constantly been going on in my mind over the past months – Why did they make me choose between studying and surviving? And why did I have to suffer just because I wanted to study?”.

Media Conference

Time: Monday June 18th, 10am

Location: Senate Courtyard, Parliament House, Canberra

Who: Leaders from the following organisations will be in Canberra on June 18th to meet with politicians and speak at the media conference:

Australian Council of Social Services, the Refugee Council of Australia, the Salvation Army, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Brotherhood of St Laurence, Anglicare, St Vincent de Paul Society, Asylum Seeker Centre, Jesuit Refugee Service, Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project, Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce.

What: These NGO leaders, as well as people seeking asylum who will be affected, will be speaking about this looming humanitarian crisis and the impact for people seeking asylum, the organisations trying to help them and the broader community and state governments.

At the same time, we will be launching our new report: With Empty Hands: How the Australian Government is forcing people seeking asylum to destitution (copies will be available at the media conference).

Pop up Home on Parliament Lawn

Time: Monday June 18th, 9.30am-11.30am

Location: Authorised Assembly Area, Parliament Lawn, Parliament House, Canberra (see map)

Who: A delegation of people seeking asylum who will be affected by these cuts, plus members of the community. Expected attendance 50-100.

MPs and Senators will be invited to join us to hear more about the cuts.

What: We will set up ‘pop up home’ made of cardboard to emphasise the risk of homelessness thousands of people will face as a result of these cuts. Our call to the Federal government is to ensure a #RoofOverMyHead.

Media contact: For all interviews and further information please contact RCOA Communications Director, Kelly Nicholls, Kelly.nicholls@refugeecouncil.org.au 0439 528 466.

Download the media release here

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