Covid-19 anxiety peaks for asylum seeker sleeping rough

January 18, 2022

Arthur*, 60, has been sleeping rough in Sydney for several years while he waits for permanent protection. He’s deeply anxious about catching Covid-19: he has no Medicare and suffers from diabetes, high blood pressure, dental issues and persistent infections. 

“I find myself now very, very vulnerable. If people come close to me, I walk away,” he said.

A man wearing a t-shirt and face mask looks into the camera with a serious expression on his face.

“I sit on a bench, I see someone without a mask close to me and I panic.

“Every single night I’m on the train, jumping from carriage to carriage when people come close to me. I don’t sleep at night.”

Arthur has been unable to self-test for Covid-19 as regularly as needed, due to the cost of and supply issues with rapid antigen tests.

“My position is (the government) must give away the tests for free,” he said.

“The other day I went to a pharmacy and the lady said ‘I have that here, it’s $35.’ People are paying up to $50 for a test. Who can pay $50?”

Arthur is receiving counselling for stress caused by his years-long asylum case and torture in his home country.

“My dignity has been taken away from me… I was in business, my life was good,” he said.

“The pandemic is just something that puts on another layer. All those layers – there’s only so much that I can add on top.”

Arthur isn’t eligible for government income support, and he receives support and grocery vouchers from the Asylum Seekers Centre.

He will move into accommodation provided by the ASC this week, and is looking for work with support from the employment service.

“The Asylum Seekers Centre and all the people working there, they have been diligent in trying everything possible to help me, try to reestablish me in life,” he said. “I am 100% positive in stating that without this, I wouldn’t be alive right now.”

Access to rapid antigen tests

People seeking asylum are again being left out by the Federal Government when it comes to access to rapid antigen tests. Currently the shortages of tests are affecting everyone in our community, but when supply becomes available, people seeking asylum with no or low income will still be locked out.

The Federal Government’s policy of providing free tests to people with concession cards ignores people seeking asylum who have no access to welfare payments and are therefore ineligible for concession cards. As with JobSeeker and JobKeeper systems, the Federal Government has drawn a line through our community and left some people behind.

Access to rapid antigen tests must be made available to all people on low or no income, including people seeking asylum, who are already doing it especially tough through the pandemic.

Without Federal Government assistance, access to rapid antigen tests relies on having the capacity to pay for and shop around to find tests where they are available. For many people seeking asylum this barrier makes it likely they will not take a test that would give them early warning of an infection with Covid-19, allowing them to keep their families and community safe.

The Asylum Seekers Centre is campaigning for more equitable access to rapid antigen testing and working with all the people we support to ensure they have access to boosters when they become eligible.

If available, community organisations or pharmacists would be able to distribute tests. The Asylum Seekers Centre’s health clinic is a trusted place for people seeking asylum to come to get advice, support from translators to understand the use of the tests and awareness of the often complex physical and mental health needs of their communities.

January 2022 newsletter: Impact of Covid-19 outbreak | Access to RATs | Film screening Rapid antigen tests provided for people seeking asylum