Cruel, punitive and unfair treatment of asylum seekers
Last week, in news barely reported, we learnt that asylum seekers living in the Australian community were having their income support summarily cut by Peter Dutton’s Department of Home Affairs, and being left at risk of destitution.
Some of those who have had their status resolution support service (SRSS) cut arrived in Australia as unaccompanied minors and have since graduated from high school here. Some have won scholarships to university. With the withdrawal of financial support, some have been forced to withdraw from university because they cannot survive while studying.
Others who are studying English or training for a work qualification are being forced to choose between continuing their studies or finding immediate work to support themselves
Changes to the SRSS regime were imposed late last year, when individual asylum seekers, who were living legally in the Australian community on bridging visas, were told they were being cut off from their support. But details of the breadth of the policy have become clearer over recent weeks, with more and more asylum seekers affected, reported the Guardian Australia.
In a very cruel and ironic justification the government has outlined its rationale that asylum seekers judged to be “work-ready” will be required to be working: those who are seeking work, but are unable to find it, or who are studying for work qualifications or to improve their English, will not be eligible for assistance.
It is unclear how many people might be caught up in the changes, but agencies supporting asylum seekers estimate it could affect up to 10,000 people across the country, mainly but not entirely in Sydney and Melbourne.
Refugee advocates have said those stripped of their SRSS are vulnerable to exploitation in the workforce, forced to take any job, under any conditions, in order to survive.
Melbourne’s Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said the changes to the payments meant individuals and families waiting for their protection claims to be assessed could not pay rent, buy food or access mental healthcare.
The centre said the changes had not been clearly explained to asylum seekers, and said it was a “cruel twist of irony” to demand higher language requirements of would-be citizens while removing support from those studying English.
“If you don’t support people to meet basic needs, how can they learn to speak English and pass the government’s own proposed language test?” the ASRC’s Jana Favero said.
In Sydney, the principal solicitor with the Refugee Advice and Casework Service, Sarah Dale, said “It’s not just a choice of ‘do I continue my studies?’, this is a choice about their future, we are limiting their ability to build a new life for themselves, and to integrate in Australia” she said.
The Greens’ immigration spokesman, Nick McKim, said cutting support payments to asylum seekers was “unconscionably cruel and punitive”.
Indeed, this is a deeply unfair decision which could force people into poverty, homelessness and exploitative jobs. Many people affected by these cuts are studying, and all of them are trying to rebuild their lives.
To retrospectively punish people in this way is unconscionably cruel, but sadly that’s what we’ve come to expect from Peter Dutton.
To add insult to injury we learnt last week that Mr Dutton is proposing to fast track offers of settlement to white South African farmers, which that government quite rightly described as “Offensive”.