Charities including a volunteer mothers' group are increasingly providing emergency relief for people seeking asylum in Australia, with calls for an immediate increase in financial support for those waiting for visas.
The Asylum Seekers Centre (ASC) is among a number of services in Australia struggling to cope with a 20 per cent rise in requests for help.
Federal Government financial support for people seeking asylum was reduced by 60 per cent to $52.6 million in the 2019-20 budget, down from $139.8 million in 2017-18.
“Over the past two years punitive cuts have heavily impacted vulnerable people, leading to further misery and destitution for those who’ve come to Australia seeking protection,” ASC CEO Frances Rush told SBS News.
“The cuts have progressively pushed families and children into poverty, further marginalising an already vulnerable population.”
The ASC in Sydney’s Newtown is currently supporting more than 4,000 people seeking asylum, including 942 children. Only 10 per cent of these families is eligible for government support.
ASC provides daily hot meals, essentials like soap, shampoo and clothes, plus legal and medical support.
“With a Federal election looming, we are calling on whichever government is elected to provide a fair process for claiming asylum,” Ms Rush said.
With a Federal election looming, we are calling on whichever government is elected to provide a fair process for claiming asylum.
- Frances Rush, Asylum Seekers Centre
“This means re-instating a living allowance for people who seek protection while they wait for the government to process their claim. And equally as important is a permanent end to offshore processing.”
The Jesuit Refugee Service is another organisation trying to meet the rising demand for emergency care.
“One of our clients was in a very vulnerable situation as a newly arrived single woman and pregnant with her first child. She was recently homeless, had no source of income and certainly did not have enough community support to gather all of the necessities for her new arrival,” casework manager Katie Spiroski said.
Relief arrived from a not-for-profit network of volunteers, Mummies Paying it Forward.
“Mummies swiftly arranged all the baby basics and more. This was exactly what (the mother) needed,” Ms Spiroski said.
“Given the current government policies that affect people seeking asylum, organisations like Mummies Paying it Forward are vital.”
The mothers’ group has 20,000 supporters in NSW and networks Australia-wide supporting community organisations, hospitals, and women’s refuges.
Clothes, food and everyday essentials like soap, shampoo and clothes are sorted by volunteers and bundled for delivery to those in need.
“The vast majority of the donations that are coming in are for children: clothing, nursery items, prams and cots, and toys of course,” said partnership and sustainability officer Vanessa Wright.
Rather than more clothing donations though, the group needs more volunteer drivers, and people able to pick up and deliver goods.
Mummies Paying it Forward was founded in December 2014 by Sydney mother of four and paediatric nurse, Fatma Elzein. The group now has drop-off points at dozens of volunteer homes.
More than half a million items have so far been gifted to families in need.
“For an asylum seeker family or a woman escaping domestic abuse with her children, the gift of a car seat or a stroller can be absolutely life-changing,” Ms Wright said.
For an asylum seeker family or a woman escaping domestic abuse with her children, the gift of a car seat or a stroller can be absolutely life-changing.
- Vanessa Wright, Mummies Paying it Forward
“A newborn pack has 80 to 100 items and that should cover a child from when they’re coming out of the hospital for the first time as if they had nothing,” Ms Wright said.
“Plus, lots of mums and dads out there want to know that children less fortunate than theirs are wearing those onesies and socks and are sleeping well at night in a cot,” Marie Norman added.
“This is about as grassroots as you can get, we’re a real community organisation.”
Volunteers Di Roche and Vanessa Trowell said they felt a strong desire to give back to the community.
“The way that my daughter and my grandchildren and other children are being raised is to give back to society, is to understand about asylum seekers and to be as welcoming as we can,” Ms Roche said.
Across Australia, people are heeding the call for help, with St Vincent de Paul receiving a 25 per cent increase in gifted goods in Western Australia, and a six per cent rise in Victoria, compared with the same time last year.
Women’s Refuges are grateful for the extra donations, with family violence the main driver of homelessness in Australia.
“Domestic and family violence is at epidemic proportions,” said Elizabeth McKinlay, chair of women's refuge Mary’s House.
“The cost to the economy is enormous. The cost to individual lives that are shattered is enormous. The cost to children who are traumatised and are coming out of situations of violence is inestimable”.
Current statistics show in Australia police are called to domestic or family violence every two minutes - that’s 5,000 calls each week.
“One woman’s partner was escalating and he threatened to kill her and started to dig a grave in the backyard. At that point, she realised she had to go so she took her two children – a newborn and a toddler – and walked out. She had nothing,” Ms Mackinlay said.
“Many of the women (seeking refuge) have come to Australia on their partner’s visa, a student visa or a 457 visa. When she leaves him she has no access to any benefits.”
“This is a national emergency and it’s something that we all need to be having a conversation about,” Ms Mackinlay said.
If you or someone you know needs help with sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse, call 1800RESPECT or visit 1800RESPECT.org.au