October 2020 newsletter

Thank you, as always, for supporting CAPSA’s work and mission.

In this newsletter, we take a look at the recent Federal Budget and its implications for refugees and people seeking asylum; the latest Senate Estimates hearings; and recent measures to remove government support for hundreds of people seeking asylum that are deeply concerning. 

The 2020-21 Federal Budget

This year’s Federal budget, delivered in early October, was not a good one for people seeking asylum. 

A key decision was capping the Refugee and Humanitarian Program at 13,750 places per year. The program ceiling was previously set at 18,750, meaning it has now been reduced by 5,000. Needless to say, this decision is at odds with global need. In 2021, the UNHCR estimates that 1.4 million people will be in need of resettlement. The move is also at odds with The Global Compact on Refugees, to which Australia is a signatory, which includes the core objective of expanding access to third-country solutions for people in need of resettlement. Human Rights Watch said the decision risks compelling people “to seek riskier migration alternatives.” 

In the budget, the government has also flagged further funding cuts to the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS), which provides financial assistance to people seeking asylum who have no other means of support. Since 2018, many people seeking asylum, who are not eligible for JobSeeker and other government income support payments, have been excluded from SRSS support after the government narrowed the eligibility criteria. 

Now expenditure on the program has been slashed further, with a forecast spend of $19.6 million in 2020-21, down from $52.6 million allocated in the previous budget (which was also underspent). A coalition of refugee and rights organisations have warned that this measure will only compound the situation for thousands of people already doing it tough.

There is plenty more detail to pick through, including the huge costs of offshore processing ($1.19 billion is allocated for 2020-21). See the Refugee Council of Australia’s detailed analysis of the 2020-21 Budget here, or analysis from the Kaldor Centre here.

Senate Estimates – Key points

Questions put to the Department of Home Affairs during Senate Estimates remain a key source of information on Australia’s refugee policies and practices that are otherwise opaque. The transcripts of this round of Estimates are available here

A few key points that emerged from Estimates hearings on 19 October include:

  • 870 people, who were previously held in Papua New Guinea or Nauru, have been resettled in the United States.
  • Approximately 260 additional people have been “provisionally approved” to resettle in the United States.
  • 145 people remain in Papua New Guinea, all in the capital Port Moresby. There is no one being held in the Bomana immigration detention centre. 
  • 145 or 146 people remain on Nauru (there was confusion in the evidence, with both numbers cited at different stages)
  • There are 1,226 people, who were previously detained offshore, who are currently in Australia

We also learned that the Sri Lankan family of four being detained on Christmas Island are escorted by guards whenever they leave the facility they live in, including when the children go to school. On the facility itself, a department official said: “I wouldn’t call it a shed and I wouldn’t call it a house.”

The family’s case was back in court in mid-October, with a ruling pending. The family, who had been living in Biloela in Queensland, have now been detained on Christmas Island for more than a year.

Hundreds facing destitution without government support

Imagine having three weeks to find a job and a place to live, in the midst of a recession and a public health crisis brought on by a global pandemic? As we noted in our previous CAPSA newsletter, this is the situation facing hundreds of people seeking asylum who have been moved from community detention into the community, without access to government support. 

One person who had spent six years in offshore detention on Nauru recently told SBS news: “They gave me three weeks’ notice. They said you have three weeks to find a job, to rent a house, to buy all the furniture. It was crazy… it was horrible.”

To date, 276 people have been subject to these arrangements (in QLD, NSW, WA and SA), with approximately 300 more people expected to follow, including in Victoria, according to the Department of Home Affairs.

This cohort of people were brought from offshore detention to Australia for medical treatment for serious health issues. Under government policy, they are not permitted to live permanently in Australia and are being placed on ‘final departure bridging visas.’

It’s shocking that people who are among the most vulnerable in our community are being completely abandoned by the Federal Government – with no income or housing support, and no certainty for their future. Read more in this ABC news article

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