Support for people seeking asylum living in the community

The Situation

The Department of Immigration and Border Protection advise that 27,216 people are living in the community on Bridging Visas; with approximately 18,000 of these people without the right to work.[1]

Many people who have applied for protection in Australia remain in detention.  While others, mainly minors and families, have been held in community detention, and others have been released into the community on Bridging Visas. [2]

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 Immigration and Border Protection.  Some are granted the right to work.[3]  Some are granted a supporting benefit that is less than the lowest amount of the Newstart payment, 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.

These harsh provisions form part of raft of measures designed to deter others from seeking protection in Australia and to encourage them to leave Australia voluntarily.


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.
  • All minors should have access to education. (See ‘Children should not be in Detention’)



[1] Department of Immigration and Border Protection, Latest Statistics, 31 March 2015. Available at:

[2] Ibid.

[3] Brigit Brennan, ‘Peter Dutton Defends Work Rights Process for Asylum Seekers’, ABC News, 13 April 2015. Available at: