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What does a global pandemic look like to refugees and asylum seekers in Australia?

Updated: Aug 28, 2020

While we all are bearing the weight of COVID-19 as it knits across our communities, it is felt much more deeply by some of our community’s most disadvantaged, including refugees and asylum seekers. Opening up opportunities for refugees is at the heart of what Culinary Tales envisions to do, and so we hope to shed light on the current situation they face during this time.

Many refugees are living on very low incomes, often with insecure jobs. This poses an extremely high risk of job loss during a financial downturn, which can easily spiral into further problems like homelessness and declining health, both physical and mental.

The Refugee Council of Australia suggests that around 19,000 refugees and asylum seekers will lose their job as a result of the pandemic this year.

As a result of many policies which exclude refugees and asylum seekers who are not on permanent visas, refugees and asylum seekers are unable to access income support such as JobSeeker and JobKeeper payments. With high levels of unemployment, financial support is seen as critical for sustaining the livelihood of these families as allowing them to fall further below the poverty line exposes them to a higher risk of poor health and homelessness. Further, it would encourage refugees and asylum seekers to continue to work longer hours during COVID-19 without adequate consideration of safety and protection.

Moreover, as they are unable to easily access medical treatment, refugees and asylum seekers will not gain costly and timely medical support pertinent during the COVID pandemic through entitlements such as Medicare. It also indicates that there could be many refugees and asylum seekers alarmingly left untested and untreated which not only threatens their health but poses a risk to the wider community. This highlights the significance of removing barriers to financial and medical support for this vulnerable group through reforming government policies which enable them to access these rights.

Another critical issue facing asylum seekers and refugees in light of COVID-19, is the lack of social distancing in detention centres. Detainees have been unable to maintain the social distancing recommended by health authorities.

As an active solution to this problem, and to aid in remediating the health and social impacts of indefinite detention, it is advisable that the government shifts towards increased community release. This can be done through community detention or the granting of ongoing bridging visas.

Currently, the government completes health, identity and security checks before releasing asylum seekers from their detention facilities. Upon doing so, they may be granted a bridging visa, or re-settled through residence determination. Only in cases where the person poses an unacceptable risk to the community should community release be refused. The Human Rights Commission has also reported very low rates of absconding from community arrangements.

Particularly in light of the COVID-19 concerns this year, these suggestions should be taken on board to work towards a better future for all refugees and asylum seekers.

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