The Australian Council of Social Service is the peak body of the community services and welfare sector and the national voice for the needs of people affected by poverty and inequality. Here are some extracts from their latest emergency relief (ER)handbook (Vers. IV)
(p33) There is widespread confusion about the difference between refugees and asylum seekers. Those who are recognised by the Australian Government as refugees are given permanent residency status and are entitled to work, to access mainstream services and to receive income support from Centrelink.
An asylum seeker is someone who has fled their country of origin and is in the process of applying for a Protection Visa which will recognise him or her as a refugee.
To obtain a protection visa in Australia, an asylum seeker must prove to the Australian Government that they cannot return to their country of origin due to a well-founded fear of persecution.
Australia is a signatory to the United Nations Refugee Convention of 1951, which dictates that a person is able to seek asylum in a signatory country with or without travel and identity documents and irrespective of their mode of transport to that country. There is no such thing as an illegal asylum seeker in Australia.
Asylum seekers and ER (p34)
Most asylum seekers come to Australia by plane and do not spend time in immigration detention. They live in the community and typically experience severe poverty and disadvantage. Unique factors that contribute to this disadvantage include the following:
- asylum seekers have no access to Centrelink income support;
- asylum seekers are ineligible for Health Care Cards;
- asylum seekers have no guaranteed right to work, nor to Medicare or mainstream settlement services;
- for asylum seekers who do have work rights, finding a job is extremely difficult as they do not have access to the Job Network or Job Services Australia; as a result, a high proportion of asylum seekers have no income;
- most asylum seekers rely heavily on charity and ER organisations to meet their most basic needs, including: food, public transport, clothing, bedding, kitchenware and nappies;
- asylum seekers experience a rate of homelessness disproportionate to that of the wider Australian population;
- experiences of war, torture and trauma produce serious mental health conditions in asylum seekers –
- common symptoms include flashbacks, sleeplessness, anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation;
- asylum seekers often wait years for a decision on their application for refugee protection, with no access to mainstream mental health services – this compounds pre-existing mental health conditions;
asylum seekers are frequently excluded from mainstream community and ER organisations that require clients to possess a valid Health Care Card