The Australian federal government has informed civil society organisations that it will cut over a thousand people seeking asylum off vital support services provided through the Status Resolution Support Program (SRSS) from the end of July.
These mass cuts are in addition those that have already rendered people like Fatima, a single mother of two young girls, destitute. After escaping war to seek safety in Australia, Fatima, found herself having to escape again, this time from her husband who had become violent. Despite being forced to pick up the pieces as a single mother and survivor of domestic violence, the government cut her income support payments because of a single emergency transfer to help pay for her mother’s surgery in the Middle East. Fatima has since searched fruitlessly for work, and she is still looking.
Last Monday, JRS Australia joined people seeking asylum, peak bodies, NGO partners, and community groups at Parliament House in Canberra to highlight the strong likelihood that such cuts could consign thousands of children, women, and men to homelessness, hunger, destitution, and labour exploitation.
Despite these warnings, JRS Australia understands that the first letters notifying people that their payments will cease were sent to the first group of approximately 1,500 women and men yesterday.
These individuals will lose all income support (worth 89% of the lowest Newstart Allowance rate) on 25th July 2018 and will be cut off from all other support services on 1st August 2017, giving them approximately thirty days to find employment.
A further 5,500 people, including single mothers and families with very young children, will be assessed for ‘work readiness’ in the next few months on the basis of the Department of Home Affairs (DHA) criteria that is not publicly available. Those who remain on SRSS support will again be reassessed by the department in the coming months, presumably to ascertain if those with previously identified barriers can also be cut off from support.
JRS Australia remains gravely concerned about the prospect of a humanitarian crisis in our cities and towns if the government pushes ahead with these cuts without a clear plan to support people into employment or prevent homelessness.
“Like everyone else, people seeking asylum want to work. We know that although some may find work, others, like many Australians, will inevitably struggle to do so. In addition, many women, children, and men likely to lose support are grappling with situations of significant vulnerability – complex PTSD and suicidality, physical injuries, histories of torture and trauma, parents caring for young children, language barriers, – which will prevent them from working.” said Carolina Gottardo, Director of JRS Australia.
“Is our government genuinely willing to place these women, children, and men, still waiting for their protection claims to be heard, in situations where they will be forced to sleep on sidewalks or alleyways outside Sydney Central or Parramatta stations? We are a prosperous country. We can more than afford to treat people with the dignity and respect they deserve and give them a fair go,” she continued.
JRS Australia also reiterates that the community sector simply cannot cope with the increase in demand for complex, crisis response services if the government takes away this vital safety net from thousands of people. Last year, JRS Australia served more than 3,000 people seeking asylum in Western Sydney, where the brunt of these cuts is likely to be felt.
“We are already at breaking point, and are not sure how we will cope if the government continues to deflect its responsibilities on to the community,” said Gottardo.
“The federal government’s priorities are grossly misplaced. Where they could invest in resources to assess these peoples’ protection claims faster, they have chosen to spend millions on assessing work readiness whilst people continue to suffer in legal limbo.” Gottardo concluded.
JRS Australia strongly opposes these cuts and calls on the Federal Government to restore SRSS payments and support to all people seeking asylum in need of it.
For media enquiries contact:
Policy and Advocacy Coordinator, JRS Australia
02 9356 3888