Support for people seeking asylum living in the community
The Department of Home Affairs advise that between 25 November 2011 and 30 June 2021, 37,473 people who arrived in Australia without a valid visa were granted a Bridging Visa. Of this number, 11,891 currently reside in the Australian community. Those holding a Bridging Visa are expected to support themselves while on this visa and have significantly restricted working rights.
People who have sought asylum in Australia and have applied for protection are either detained in immigration detention, held in community detention or released into the community on a Bridging Visa. At 30 June 2021, there were 1492 people in immigration detention facilities across Australia.
The conditions under which people seeking asylum live varies depending on the date and method of arrival in Australia, on the stage reached in their application for protection, and also on the unreviewable discretion of the Department of Home Affairs. Some are granted the right to work. Some are granted a supporting benefit that is less than the lowest amount of available Centrelink payments, which is below what is generally considered to be the Poverty Line. Most are granted access to Medicare benefits.
Because of the variety and often arbitrary decisions taken about entitlements, some people have access neither to work nor to benefits. These people depend on the generosity of their ethnic communities and of charitable agencies for food, clothing and shelter.
Recent research by the Rights Advocacy Project has highlighted how the current Bridging Visa system fails to protect and support people seeking asylum in Australia: "Without a valid bridging visa, a person seeking asylum is left in a precarious situation at the risk of detainment or deportation. Despite this, under sections 46A, 46B and 91K of the Migration Act, certain cohorts of people seeking asylum are barred from applying for bridging visas, or being granted them, without intervention by the Minister. The operation of these provisions and the accompanying exercise of ministerial powers has created unsustainable, dangerous and unliveable conditions for people seeking asylum in Australia."
Ethical judgment of provisions for people seeking protection
The core of Catholic Social Teaching and any ethical concern about the treatment of people seeking asylum is the conviction that each person is precious and unique, that they may not be used as means to other ends, and that their human dignity must be respected. This means that they must not be denied conditions necessary for their flourishing. This principle is also at the centre of a number of international conventions such as the International Convention on the Status of Refugees and the UN Declaration of Human Rights, which Australia is a signatory.
For all people, food, shelter and security are basic needs and essential conditions for them to flourish. As Governments themselves recognise in their rhetoric about welfare, the possibility of working is also central to self-respect, to self-reliance and to connection with the community. It is also vital to sustaining a healthy family life, itself central in human flourishing.
The restrictions on the right to work and the smallness and precariousness of the benefits available are detrimental to human flourishing. They deepen anxiety, threaten mental and physical health, diminish self-confidence and create strains in relationships. For this reason they are unjustifiable.
Necessary changes in current practice
- No person seeking protection and living in the community should be deprived of the right to work.
- All persons seeking protection and living in the community should receive benefits sufficient for food, shelter, health, utilities and necessary transport, unless these are met through employment.
- Release all people seeking asylum from indefinite detention into the community
 Department of Home Affairs , Illegal Maritime Arrivals on Bridging Visa E, 30 June 2021. Available at: https://www.homeaffairs.gov.au/research-and-stats/files/illegal-maritime-arrivals-bve-30-jun-2021.pdf
 Brigit Brennan, 'Peter Dutton Defends Work Rights Process for Asylum Seekers', ABC News, 13 April 2015. Available at: http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-04-13/peter-dutton-defends-work-rights-process-for-asylum-seekers/6389996
 Liberty Victoria's Rights Advocacy Project, 'Bridging the Department's Visa Blindspot', page 7, published April 2021. Available at: RAP2021_Refugees_Report_H_Digital1.pdf (rightsadvocacy.org.au)