Vinnies NSW Stands with People Seeking Protection and Refugees

The St Vincent de Paul Society aspires for an Australia transformed by compassion and built on justice. We welcome all those who come to us, wherever and however they come to us, with compassion and respect for their dignity.

We have a long and proud history of giving a hand-up and speaking up for refugees and people seeking protection. The Society calls upon the Federal Government to show compassion and uphold the human rights of those who seek protection.

Today more than ever, it is vital that we stand with our vulnerable brothers and sisters who need protection.

Three things you can do:

1. Donate to our Protection Appeal so that we can provide vital financial support and accommodation to people seeking protection who are at risk of becoming homeless.

Donate here

2. Show that you stand with people seeking protection by displaying our stickers and posters and speaking to people in your local community. Download our A3 posters here or contact social.justice@vinnies.org.au to order your stickers and posters.

3. Write to your Federal Member of Parliament (MP) to ask the Federal Government to show compassion and uphold the human rights of those who seek protection.

Some quick tips:
• Stay calm, respectful and on message
• Personalise your call or letter – tell your MP why you care.
• Contact social.justice@vinnies.org.au for a template letter and to let us know you have written to your MP.

Find out more:
Our briefing on cruel cuts to support payments for people seeking asylum in the community
Sign Refugee Council of Australia’s petition to the PM
Our Refugee Policy Statement

Why do we stand with people seeking protection?
Our commitment to people seeking protection and refugees is grounded in our values and Catholic Social Teaching principles.

We believe in that every person is equal in dignity, independent of ethnicity, creed, gender, sexuality, age or ability with equal rights. Indefinite detention for deterrence – the idea that some individuals should be punished for seeking our protection to deter others from attempting to come to Australia – is fundamentally incompatible with the principle of human dignity and the unity of the human family.

We believe in solidarity and in the value of working for the common good. We all have an obligation to promote the rights of all human beings across communities and nations, irrespective of borders. The Common Good is reached when we work together to improve the wellbeing of people in our society and the wider world.

In the world today there are over 20 million people who have had to flee their homes to seek protection in a foreign country. More than half of them are children, many of whom were separated from their parents or travelling alone. On average 24 people were forced to flee each minute in 2015.

Australia has an international obligation under the United Nations Refugee Convention to provide protection to refugees who arrive on its shores or via its airports, and more broadly an obligation to protect the human rights of all asylum seekers and refugees regardless of how they arrive and whether they arrive with or without a visa.

Our values do not accord with the Government’s treatment of asylum seekers. Over the past few years, the Australian Government has invested in a detention system that is incompatible with human dignity and Australia’s international obligations. In April 2016, the Supreme Court of Papua New Guinea ruled that Australia’s Manus Island immigration detention facility was unlawful and unconstitutional.

Who are refugees and people seeking protection?
Refugees are men, women and children who have well-founded fears of being persecuted because of their race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group, and who cannot return home because this would expose them to a risk of persecution.

People seeking protection or ‘asylum’ are men, women and children whose claim for refugee status has not yet been assessed. Simply, they are human beings like us.

People seeking protection are not illegal immigrants. They are not breaking any laws. Under Australian law, a person is entitled to apply for asylum in our country if they are escaping persecution. This right is protected by international law as set out in the United Nations Refugee Convention and Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.

Approximately 90 per cent of people seeking protection in Australia are found to be genuine refugees.

Who is most affected by Australia's cruel policies?
Due to complex rules and successive announcements, Australian law does not treat all people seeking protection in the same way. There are two groups of people the Society is gravely concerned about:

1. Men, women and children who have been held on Manus Island and Nauru in detention facilities for the past four years. #BringThemHere

In the four years since offshore processing commenced, seven men have died in Australia’s care, and hundreds of people including children still languish on Manus Island and Nauru.

On 30 November 2017, the men remaining in the Manus Island detention centre were violently removed by Papua New Guinean officials to other detention centre facilities. These facilities remain insecure and unsafe with threats of violence and intimidation towards the people seeking asylum by local men. There have also been several water shortages and power failures at the accommodation sites. The former head of the Australian Human Rights Commission, Professor Gillian Triggs, has labelled the Government’s treatment of Manus Island detainees “inhumane” and she has called for the men be brought to Australia.

Despite these ongoing revelations of physical violence, sexual and psychological abuse, medical neglect leading to death and catastrophic damage to mental health, the future of those trapped on Nauru and Manus remains uncertain.

The people on Manus and Nauru cannot wait a moment longer for a humane solution. Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum ought to reflect our collective values of solidarity, compassion, respect for human dignity, and our desire to do good – not harm.

The St Vincent de Paul Society reiterates its calls for the Australian Government to immediately evacuate the men, women and children on Manus and Nauru. Resettlement in Papua New Guinea or Cambodia will only cause greater harm to these vulnerable people, the only humane option is to bring them to Australia where their claims can be properly assessed and they can be offered resettlement.

It is time to #BringThemHere.

2. Men, women and children seeking asylum who are living in our community now at risk of destitution. #ChangeThePolicy
There is a support program for people seeking asylum in Australia called the Status Resolution Support Service or SRSS. It provides a basic living allowance, casework, and access to torture and trauma counselling. The payment is typically 89 per cent of the Newstart Allowance ($243 a week for a single person without children).

While the support is minimal it is still life-saving for many people.

The Government is in the process of taking away this vital support and unveiling a new, reduced support model of SRSS. From June 4 2018, thousands of people will be cut from the program and are expected to find a job. The only assistance they will get is access to a computer at a local employment agency.
These sudden and cruel changes will not assist people in finding work or becoming self-sufficient, but will instead push already vulnerable people into situations of greater risk and significant stress and trauma.

Importantly, charity services, homeless services, women’s refuges and other local services are already overstretched with many reporting an increase in the number of people accessing emergency relief, emergency accommodation, and foodbanks. These services will not be able to assist even more people in need of support.

The St Vincent de Paul Society National Council has released a briefing paper to alert the community to the seriousness of the problem. We are calling for immediate changes to this cruel policy so that all people seeking asylum in Australia are issued with bridging visas with the right to work, the right to study and access to income support and Medicare. Take action now and write to your local MP using our template letter.

Why are people seeking asylum in our community becoming destitute?
Over the past year St Vincent de Paul Society has seen a significant increase in the number of people seeking asylum who need financial support to survive while awaiting resolution of their refugee status.

For instance, in NSW, the Asylum Seeker Program has assisted with the living costs for 12 individuals and one family seeking asylum. Increasingly punitive changes in Australian Government policy have meant that more people seeking asylum are at risk of homelessness. More than a third of the people supported by the Asylum Seeker Program had been sleeping rough at the time of referral, while the remainder were at risk of eviction and homelessness. The increase in homelessness and financial hardship has meant that Vinnies have started to play a larger role rather than only being called on to assist people from time to time in emergencies or because of unexpected costs.

One of the major reasons that more and more people seeking asylum are becoming destitute is because the Australian Government has changed the way it administers the Status Resolution Support Service.

The Status Resolution Support Service or SRSS provides a basic living allowance, casework, and access to torture and trauma counselling for people who need support to survive in Australia while their claims for protection are being assessed. The payment is typically 89 per cent of the Newstart Allowance ($243 a week for a single person without children).

While the support is minimal it is still life-saving for many people.

The Government is in the process of taking away this vital support and unveiling a new, reduced support model of SRSS. From June 4 2018, thousands of people will be cut from the program and are expected to find a job. The only assistance they will get is access to a computer at a local employment agency.
These sudden and cruel changes will not assist people in finding work or becoming self-sufficient, but will instead push already vulnerable people into situations of greater risk and significant stress and trauma.

The St Vincent de Paul Society National Council has released a briefing paper to alert the community to the seriousness of the problem. We are calling for immediate changes to this cruel policy so that all people seeking asylum in Australia are issued with bridging visas with the right to work, the right to study and access to income support and Medicare. Take action now and write to your local MP using our template letter.

How many people are still held on Manus Island and Nauru?
As of 28 February 2018, there were 309 people in detention on Nauru, including 30 children.

On the 23 November 2017 all 600 men were moved from the Manus Island Detention Centre to one of the three transition centres. It is estimated there are 488 men still on Manus Island as 112 have been given refugee status and now live in the United States.

The Australian Government refuses to resettle these people in Australia, even if they are found to be refugees. Together, we can campaign to #BringThemHere and tell our Members of Parliament to evacuate the camps.

How many people are still held on Manus Island and Nauru?

As of 30 September 2017, there were 1,111 people in ‘offshore processing’ on Manus Island and in Nauru. The US has resettled 54 people that were in detention on Manus Island and Nauru with more resettlement decisions to come.

The Australian Government refuses to resettle these people in Australia, even if they are found to be refugees. Together, we can campaign to #BringThemHere and tell our Members of Parliament to evacuate the camps.

How many people have been evacuated from offshore detention for medical care and now live in Australia?
Approximately 400 people were evacuated from offshore detention to Australia for medical reasons and now live in the community in Australia.
What is currently happening to the people who were brought to Australia for medical care?
On 27 August 2017, it was announced that the Federal Government has moved to immediately cut off the income and eventually accommodation support of up to 100 Australia-based asylum seekers. These people were brought to Australia from Manus Island and Nauru detention centres for medical care, some as the result of violent attacks including sexual assault or rape.

The Department of Immigration will issue these people with a new visa known as the “final departure Bridging E Visa”. Under the new visa conditions, income support of about $200 a fortnight will cease and a three-week deadline to move out of government-supported accommodation will be imposed.

This decision is about politics not people. It is unconscionable to force families to choose between homelessness or a return to harsh offshore detention centres. These families are living in our communities and rebuilding their lives. There will be close to 400 men, women and children including young babies affected by the change. You can read more about the #LetThemStay campaign here.

This policy is not only cruel, it is simply impossible. The Australian Government is closing down the Manus Island camp and Nauru has no contractor to operate the camp after 31 October 2017. It is preposterous to suggest that these people can be deported back to these offshore camps.

It is clear that the Government has no plan to ensure the safety of these people. The answer is simple. These men, women and children must all be allowed to stay in our communities to continue rebuilding their lives in freedom and safety.

The Society will stand with the men, women and children affected by this decision. #LetThemStay

What is happening to the people who have lived in the community for years but are now at risk of deportation?

Around 30,000 people seeking asylum who arrived by boat and have lived in the community for years, barred from applying for protection visas, were given a deadline of the 1 October 2017 by which they had to lodge their application for temporary protection visas or face deportation.
This unfair deadline has now lapsed.

A significant number of applications were lodged in the three days leading up to the deadline. According to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection, 71 people did not meet the deadline and are now barred from applying for a protection visa, cut off from most government-funded services and support and expected to make arrangements to leave Australia. Read the information on the Department’s website.

The St Vincent de Paul Society condemns the Federal Government’s announcement as cruel, a fundamental repudiation of Australia’s moral and legal obligations to those seeking asylum and an infringement of the human dignity that we as Catholics believe is bestowed on all humans.

For those people who have now lodged their application for temporary protection, they continue to face an uncertain future while their application is processed, with many more hurdles to overcome before gaining permanent protection. #FairProcess

What is Vinnies NSW doing for those seeking protection?
The St Vincent de Paul Society NSW has committed to providing financial assistance, accommodation support and case management to those seeking protection who are at risk of homelessness due to recent cuts to their income and accommodation through the new ‘final departure Bridging E Visa’.

Donate to our People Seeking Asylum NSW Appeal now. Your generous donation will support people with no place to turn.

The St Vincent de Paul Society NSW has a number of support services for refugees, asylum seekers and migrants including:

The Asylum Seeker Program (ASP)

The ASP provides financial assistance, case management and wrap around support to people seeking protection who are living in the community in NSW and experiencing financial hardship. This program supports vulnerable individuals and families, who may be at risk of homelessness as they have no income and have minimal support options available to them.

RACS partnership

We have partnered with the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) to support people who arrived in New South Wales after fleeing persecution overseas and do not currently have access to the assistance they need to resolve their immigration status.

Under this joint initiative, lawyers from RACS’ Justice for Refugees program will provide judicial review referral assistance to people who have had a negative Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA) decision or a Department of Immigration decision refusing to grant them a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV) or Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) and excluding them from review in the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA). These people will also be assisted by ASP to make sure they can meet their daily needs and live in dignity until their immigration status is resolved

SPARK

SPARK is a settlement support program for newly arrived migrant, refugee and asylum seeker families. SPARK partners with primary schools, and uses volunteers and other community organisations to support the settlement of newly arrived families and create opportunities to engage with local communities.

What is Vinnies message to the Federal Government?
The St Vincent de Paul Society calls upon the Federal Government to show compassion and uphold the human rights of all people who seek protection, by providing permanent protection to all those found to be refugees.

Currently the Government’s approach to people seeking protection is a cruel, secretive and militarised process. There is another way. The Government can adopt a policy centred on human dignity and regional cooperation to provide people with the safety they need to rebuild their lives.

We ask the Federal Government to:

    • Immediately bring people held on Manus Island and Nauru to Australia and grant permanent protection to those found to be refugees. #BringThemHere
    • Issue all people seeking asylum in Australia with bridging visas with the right to work, the right to study, access to income support and Medicare.
    • Make Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) payments to all those awaiting their claims for protection being assessed, including claims before the Courts, based on need.
    • Publish the eligibility criteria for SRSS payments as a public document on the Department of Human Services website.
    • Discontinue the practice of denying SRSS payments to persons because they are studying or otherwise deemed eligible to work. The criteria for the denial of the payment should be if the person is working and their income reaches a level which would exclude them if they were receiving Newstart Allowance.
    • Uphold people’s rights to safety and fairness by not returning people seeking asylum to danger.
    • Let those people who were evacuated from offshore detention stay in Australia and never return them to harm. #LetThemStay
    • Create a fair and efficient process by restoring funding to legal assistance services and providing appropriate time and support for each person to make an application.
    • Provide pathways to permanent protection to allow these people to get on with rebuilding their lives in our communities.
How can I stand with people seeking protection?
We can all do something, big or small, to stand with people seeking protection.

Here are three things you can do:

1. Donate to our Protection Appeal so that we can provide vital financial support and accommodation to people seeking protection who are at risk of becoming homeless.
Vinnies NSW has committed to providing case management, financial assistance and accommodation support to people seeking asylum who are at risk of homelessness. Your generous donation will support people with no place to turn. Donate to our People Seeking Asylum NSW Appeal now.

2. Show that you stand with people seeking protection by displaying our stickers and posters.
Display our stickers and posters, and speak to people in your local community to show you stand with people seeking protection. Bring the conversation back to our values and the stories of the women, men, boys and girls who are simply trying to rebuild their lives. Your action can make a real difference in changing the conversation. Download our A3 posters here or contact social.justice@vinnies.org.au to order your stickers and posters.

3. Write to your Federal Member of Parliament (MP) to ask the Federal Government to show compassion and uphold the human rights of those who seek protection.

Some quick tips:
• Stay calm, respectful and on message
• Personalise your call or letter – tell your MP why you care.
• Contact social.justice@vinnies.org.au for a template letter and to let us know you have written to your MP.

Find out more:
Our briefing on cruel cuts to support payments for people seeking asylum in the community
Sign Refugee Council of Australia’s petition to the PM
Our Refugee Policy Statement

It’s important to make sure we approach politicians in a coordinated and effective manner. If you would like to visit your MP or organise an event please firstly contact social.justice@vinnies.org.au

For further information read our briefing on why we are concerned about the situation on Manus Island and Nauru.

 

How do I respond to common questions about people seeking protection?
Are people seeking asylum ‘genuine’ refugees?
People who genuinely fear for their lives or freedom have the legal right to seek protection in Australia. Doing what’s right means upholding people’s basic rights to safety and fairness, the foundation of human dignity.

This right is protected by international law as set out in the United Nations Refugee Convention and Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution”.

Shouldn’t we help our poor and homeless first before people seeking asylum?
Most of us strive to treat others the way we would want to be treated. If any one of us feared for our life or for our family we’d like to know that others would help us to safety. Throughout history, people have risked everything for the hope of a better live. We must ensure people’s basic right to live free from danger.

The Government does not have to choose between supporting Australians and people seeking asylum. Integrating people seeking asylum into our community is the right thing to do and when people are given this opportunity to rebuild their lives they don’t need government assistance. In fact, Australia has spent more than five times the entire United Nations refugee agency’s budget for all of South East Asia on offshore processing of people seeking asylum.

Don’t we take more than our fair share of refugees?
We believe that all people deserve to live in peace and safety. It is time we recognised that the presence of people who must abandon all they know and love to save their very lives is a global issue that we in Australia have the great fortune to be able to help solve. This isn’t about fulfilling ‘our fair share’ but rather about upholding people’s basic right to live in peace.

In fact, Australia’s Refugee and Humanitarian Program made up only 8.4% of the 207,325 permanent additions through migration in 2015-16. Whereas developing countries host 80% of the world’s refugees. In 2015 the five countries hosting the largest number of refugees are Turkey (2.5 million), Pakistan (1.6 million), Lebanon (1.1 million), Iran (979,437) and Ethiopia (736,086).

Isn’t the Government saving lives by ‘stopping the boats’?
The Government’s current policy does not save lives rather it denies people’s basic rights. It simply leaves people seeking our protection out of sight and out of mind. We cannot turn an issue of human rights into political bickering. We must create a fair and efficient asylum process which examines each person’s asylum case in a safe space and quickly integrate the people requiring asylum into our communities so they can begin the process of rebuilding their lives. This isn’t a matter of right or left, but quite simply a matter of right and wrong.

Approximately 90 per cent of people seeking protection in Australia are found to be genuine refugees.

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