For Fatima*, who came to Australia seeking safety, the decision was an easy one. Her mother was living abroad, sick and in need of surgery she couldn’t afford. So Fatima sent her mother some of her own hard-earned money, as much as she could manage.
That was in 2014. At the time Fatima was managing her husband’s shop, and earning just enough to offer their two little girls a secure life.
But then her situation changed. Her husband became violent, and when their marriage ended so did any financial support for her and her children. She searched fruitlessly for work, and she is still looking. Having to care for her young children has greatly limited her ability to find any form of employment.
Fatima applied for the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS) – income support worth approximately $235.27 per week, made available for people seeking asylum in challenging situations like hers.
Now, because Fatima made an emergency money transfer overseas to her sick mother nearly four years ago, she is ineligible for any support whatsoever.
Carolina Gottardo, Director of Jesuit Refugee Service Australia (JRS), says, “Fatima came to JRS in desperation. We see so many people like Fatima, who have lost income support for sending or receiving amounts of up to $1000 within Australia or overseas in any twelve-month period.”
The Rahimi* family is one of those. They are not eligible for income support under the new rules, because they received money from a family member while waiting to be given a bridging visa. The mother has a chronic physical ailment, and the father is severely limited in the work he can do because of injuries sustained to his limbs back home. When he did find work he was exploited: after two days in the job he was told that his labour was regarded as unpaid training for which he would not be paid.
“Finding work is hard at the best of times. By restricting eligibility for case management services and income support, and driving highly vulnerable people into the workforce at short notice, we are manufacturing situations of systemic poverty, destitution, and homelessness,” Gottardo says.
“Rates of mental illness, physical health problems and family breakdown will also go up,” JRS’ Director continues. “Most strikingly, these policies are crushing what little hope and dignity these children, women, and men – who have already been waiting years for their protection claims to adjudicated – have for the future.”
JRS is also working with the Nadesan* family, who have no money and are on the cusp of eviction after losing income support. The Department of Home Affairs has refused their recent application for work rights, leaving them without the ability to earn legally and therefore with no choice but to accept handouts.
They have a toddler and a baby due in two months. One parent is suffering from a significant mental illness. The family has had to sell the few valuables they own to thus far avoid being thrown out onto the street.
Maeve Brown, manager of JRS’ Arrupe Project, reiterates the extent of the humanitarian challenge. She says, “At JRS we are witnessing people sleeping on the streets or in cars, or relying on friends and charity for basic survival. Crisis accommodation is full, social housing is available only for people with permanent visas and the private rental market is unaffordable. This is a real crisis.”
JRS can offer Fatima and the Rahimi, and Nadesan families a temporary basic living allowance, access to our food bank, specialist trauma-informed casework, and a safe, welcoming space. But we cannot, for example, offer ongoing rental payments or a sustainable place to stay.
“We are really struggling to meet the growing demand for safe, affordable, and sustainable housing, but also for basic necessities such as food, clothing, sanitary pads and nappies. Other non-government funded charities are deeply affected too,” Gottardo says.
“Of course, we are all doing the best we can,” she continues, “but with the deep impact of these cuts, it’s just not enough. JRS staff and volunteers say it’s like nothing they’ve seen before.
JRS’ Director highlights the need for change. “Ultimately, the Australian government has to seriously consider the profoundly inhumane impacts of such policies on the approximately 12,000 people seeking asylum in this group. If the government continues to deny these people basic rights and dignities, whilst leaving NGOs and charities to pick up the slack, thousands will face life-threatening consequences.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
Media Contact: Carolina Gottardo, 0414 880 625 ; Nishadh Rego, 0403 566 800
Jesuit Refugee Services