Asylum-seekers now housing-seekers

Aged care homes, former convents and student flats - just some of the places asylum-seekers are calling home after being released into the community on bridging visas.

Aged care homes, former convents and student flats - just some of the places asylum-seekers are calling home after being released into the community on bridging visas.

(Transcript from World News Australia Radio)

Earlier this month, around 400 asylum-seekers were released from immigration detention in Darwin.

It's believed most are trying to settle in Melbourne and Sydney.

After being offered six weeks of government-funded 'transitional accommodation', they'll be left to live on basic welfare and have no right to work.

And as Kate Stowell reports, refugee support agencies and migrant communities are feeling the strain.

The government-funded support agency AMES says more than 200 asylum-seekers released last week came to their Melbourne headquarters for support.

Most are from Iran, Afghanistan, Sri Lanka and Iraq.

AMES Chief Executive Cath Scarth says there's a variety of temporary accommodation available, with one of their main facilities a former aged-care home in the city's west.

"We, three or four years ago, took a lease of a de-commissioned aged care facility, which has been working very well. It's en suite rooms where people are able to have their own privacy and so on. It has some shared facilities which means they can get together and we can do essential orientation and community meetings".

Cath Scarth says it's hoped that after six weeks, some of the asylum-seekers will secure rental sharehouses and move out of the aged-care facility together, or be able to find stay with friends or family already here.

She says many will move to regional Victoria or to suburbs with high refugee populations, such as the south-eastern suburb of Dandenong.

"We use that initial short-term accommodation for people to be able to make contact with links so that they can then move to those locations, or have time to find somewhere to rent and get into the shared groups that they want to share with. Some people chose to find something in the area that those facilities are in; others move out to regional areas and obviously large numbers go to Dandenong. It's that first stop for people to get those essentials worked out and to give people some ideas about where they might want to move to."

The charity Catholic Care runs two programs to support people released into the community.

One is funded by the government, but the other relies on donations and support from Catholic parishioners.

The donations-funded program sees about six houses rented for families and young men.

The Chief Executive of Catholic Care is Father Joe Caddy.

"We have some really good donors who are helping us to rent houses for asylum-seekers. We also have some church communities that are making accommodation available free of charge, so that might be an old convent or a house that's there as part of the parish property that they would make available. We then work with the local parish, or the local community, in a country setting, to give the community support so they can in turn support the asylum-seekers in the housing."

Under the government's so-called 'no advantage' principle, those asylum-seekers released into the community on bridging visas will receive basic welfare assistance - 89 per cent of the Newstart allowance - and they will not have the right to work.

Father Joe Caddy says asylum-seekers must be able to work to support themselves.

"I think its essential really. It's not to say that there are adequate opportunities for them, even if they are allowed to work. But having them not allowed to work is extremely problematic. They may be several years without any work rights, that's going to create some very, very bad work habits in their life, when eventually they are given refugee status and are allowed to become Australian citizens."

It's a view shared by Cath Scarth from AMES.

"Work is the most essential aspect, whether you're settling here permanently or temporarily. Work is just critical."

Father Joe Caddy says there's a strain on the migrant and refugee communities already established when they have to care for new arrivals who aren't able to be employed.

"I think that we would really appreciate if there were work rights available for those people, and if there were even encouragement from employers to pick up some of the refugees. That would take an enormous strain off not only agencies but also the diaspora, the communities that Afghan, Burmese, who are being asked, and the Sri Lankans, who are struggling already, look after the new arrivals who have come in without any other supports."

Hutch Hussein is the Senior Manager of refugee programs at the charity the Brotherhood of St Laurence.

She says they're lobbying the government for more support and to change the 'no right to work' policy because it's going to place a strain on charities already stretched trying to help people.

"That will pose some strain on our services. We hope that people will know the services to come to within the community. I know that the sector is bracing itself for that. It's a difficult time but it also presents a challenge to the sector to demonstrate the need, and reinforce that, regardless of visa status, all our clients are humans who really want the dignity of work and the dignity of services."

Cath Scarth from AMES says those recently released are working hard to establish contacts in Melbourne and find permanent accommodation.

But she says it's going to be hard to keep spirits up without any prospect of paid employment.

"Generally, they are incredible. They are resilient, very motivated to do whatever it takes to support themselves and to get into a position where they are able to achieve a permanent residency and settle and make their life here. However our concern obviously is how we maintain that hope, motivation and resilience, especially for those who are looking at not being able to get work."

Source SBS

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