January 30, 2014
“Dani” is an Afghan asylum seeker who says life has been very difficult in Australia. Source:News Limited
LOCAL welfare groups are struggling to cope with demand created by asylum-seekers unable to work because of the non-renewal of bridging visas for ‘illegal maritime arrivals’.
They say the inability to work leaves many asylum-seekers unable to support themselves, and dependent on charities to survive.
Under the Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, IMAs receive 89 per cent of the Newstart allowance, or roughly $200 a week.
But Asylum-Seeker Resource Centre director of empowerment Gavin Ackerly said it was simply not enough.
He said thousands of asylum-seekers in Greater Dandenong no longer had visas and were living below the poverty line.
“It’s almost impossible for these people to exist unless they go into share houses with up to 10 people,” said Mr Ackerly.
“Without that visa and the right to work, it’s putting a lot of people under stress”
Mr Ackerly said the non- renewal of visas meant people were losing jobs, and that put more pressure on welfare agencies.
“These are some of the most committed, dedicated people you are going to come by,” he said.
“They don’t want to be on welfare, they want to get out there and earn their own money.
“We have people with great skills being denied the right to work and welfare agencies have to pick up the slack.”
Minister of Immigration and Border Protection Scott Morrison has given no time frame as to when bridging visas for IMAs might be renewed, and Mr Ackerly said the process of being approved for a refugee visa could take years.
“People who’ve come over by boat will be the last people to get their refugee visas processed” said Mr Ackerly.
“They’re trying to punish people for being here.
“We just have to find a more productive and humane way of dealing with these people.
“If these people are working, then they’re paying taxes and they’re helping local business.”
ASRC Employment Services manager Rosa Misitano said the Government’s announcement that Australia must look overseas for ‘seasonal skilled workers’ in sectors such as aged care and hospitality was ‘ridiculous’.
“We’ve got the people here available, sometimes skilled and ready,” Ms Misitano said.
“Why would we not use that pool?
“It just doesn’t make sense.”
*Afghanistan or Australia, life is tough
Two-and-a-half years ago, 26-year-old Dani made the difficult choice to leave his family and embark on a journey into the unknown.
He left his mother, sister and brother in war-torn Afghanistan to come to Australia to try to make a better life, in the hope of one day sending for them.
After travelling from Kabul to Indonesia, Dani, whose name has been changed for the purpose of this story, travelled by boat to Australia, along with 73 other people, seeking asylum.
It was a difficult journey.
Normally, it takes four to five days, but the boat got lost and they ended up running out of food.
Eventually, after 11 days, with their boat going down, they called Australia for help.
Dani was sent to Christmas Island for processing for one month, then transferred to the Curtin Immigration Detention Centre in Western Australia for four months.
When he was eventually issued with a bridging visa and touched down in Melbourne, the feeling was bittersweet.
“I didn’t know how to communicate and it was a terrible experience, but it was also beautiful,” Dani said.
The adjustment period was challenging, but Dani found a share-house and has since taken some English language courses.
Dani’s dedication to integration is evident, and after only ten weeks of classes, he has mastered the art of telling a joke perfectly.
In Afghanistan, he was an electrician and welder by trade, with six years’ experience, but, in Australia, no one will employ him, even though he is permitted to work under his current visa status.
He feels there is a stigma attached to the words “boat person”.
“People think we are criminals, so I’ve learned not to say I came by boat, because people look at me in another way,” Dani said.
“The dream was to start a new life, but that was just a dream and all I do is think about the future.
“Here I have too many problems.
“I don’t know if I’m lucky or unlucky and sometimes I think that if I had died, it would have been better.”
*About the Bridging Visas for illegal maritime arrivals:
•After November 2011, eligible IMAs were released from immigration detention on a Bridging Visa E, a temporary visa allowing holders to remain in the community while their immigration status remained unresolved.
•IMAs who arrived before August 13, 2012 had the option of being granted a bridging visa with permission to work, and released into the community while claims for refugee status were assessed. However, their visas are now lapsing and not being renewed.
•Those who arrived after that date were not granted permission to work, even if they had bridging visas, and anyone who arrived after July 19 last year was transferred to offshore processing countries such as Papua New Guinea or Nauru for assessment.
•There are 20,000 people living in Australian communities on bridging visas.
*Main asylum-seeker groups in Greater Dandenong:
*How you can help
•The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre welcomes community support. See asrc.org.au for more information.
•Settlement of Greater Dandenong:
•In 2012/13, 2240 recently-arrived migrants settled in Greater Dandenong – the highest number of settlers in any Victorian municipality. A third of these people (numbering 720) were humanitarian immigrants, largely from Afghanistan, Sri Lanka, Iran and Pakistan.