October 03, 2012
NEARLY a decade of viral emails claiming refugees get taxpayer-funded cash, houses and other gifts denied to Australian citizens has been debunked by an independent study.
The emails stir up resentment towards asylum seekers settling here but are simply not true, according to the latest research paper by the Federal Parliamentary Library.
The research dismisses claims that refugees get cash payments, free houses and extravagant gifts.
“There is no truth to claims made in emails recently circulated throughout Australia that refugees are entitled to higher benefits than other social security recipients,” says the study by social policy researcher Luke Buckmaster.
“Refugees have the same entitlements as all other permanent residents. They do not receive special refugee payments or special rates of payment.”
The only special treatment is an exemption from a standard waiting period applied to migrants before they can apply for social security benefits or concession cards, a recognition that refugees arrive here with few or no assets.
This exemption from rules covering other migrants puts them on the same basis as Australian citizens, and the payments and concessions are the same.
The Refugee Council has been campaigning against hate emails it describes as “really inflammatory and divisive, an are often accompanied by indignant comments from genuinely outraged people who have taken the bogus statistics at face value”.
“Unfortunately this information is mostly circulated by people who feel affronted and forward the message to friends and family without checking,” says the council.
“The information on benefits contained in the emails bears little relation to the real situation for asylum seekers or other immigrants (and the message doesn’t distinguish between these different distinct categories) and the figures contained are blatantly incorrect.”
Governments have been fighting the emails as well. As long ago as August, 2007, then Minister for Community Services Mal Brough called them junk and said they should go straight to the trash can.
But they keep being sent out.
Refugees do qualify for three special schemes designed specifically for them.
The Humanitarian Settlement Services provide an orientation and information program; the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme helps those waiting for a decision on their refugee application and is administered by the Red Cross; the Community Assistance Support Scheme provides similar assistance to those on bridging visas as the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme.
Under the last two schemes, recipients receive cash to cover basic living expenses roughly equal to 89 per cent of the Department of Human Services special benefit and rental assistance.
The research paper the viral emails might have originated in Canada and been adapted to Australian circumstances with incorrect claims.
“The information in the emails appears to have originated from emails that began to circulate in Canada in 2004. These were a response to a story in the Toronto Star in March 2004 about plans to settle hundreds of African refugees in smaller Canadian cities,” says the study.
“The article had somewhat ambiguously described the amount of financial assistance that would be provided to the refugees by the Canadian Government. This led one reader to incorrectly assume that the refugees would be receiving benefits at twice the rate of Canadian age pensioners.
“Based on this misunderstanding the reader is thought to have then circulated an email condemning the level of benefits available to refugees in Canada compared to that available to pensioners. The claims made in this email were subsequently published as a letter to the editor in the Toronto Star and circulated widely by email throughout Canada.
“The claims then began to appear in emails and letters to the editor in other countries such as the United States and Australia, with the names of those countries used in substitute for Canada.”
The study found that “the information in the emails is based on a misunderstanding of the support provided by the Canadian Government to refugees and as a result, the assistance referred to in the emails is based on Canadian social security payments, rather than Australian payments”.