Poverty hits people seeking asylum but Federal Government could help

March 27, 2023

As cost of living pressures affect many, people seeking asylum are hit hardest without a safety net to help them when housing and basics have become unaffordable.

Thousands of people who have sought our protection are now living in deep poverty and the program that was designed to support them is not reaching them.

While most of the 70,000 people still waiting for a decision on their refugee visas are independent, working and supporting their families, approximately 10-15,000 including children, the elderly and unwell, need some support to simply survive.

Do people seeking asylum get government benefits?

People who are waiting for the government to process their claims for refugee protection are not eligible for Centrelink services and support. Some have Medicare coverage, mostly in line with visas who give them the right to work. 

There is a Federal program called SRSS (Status Resolution Support Service) to support people seeking asylum during the process of them applying for protection. This program was cut by 94% since 2017 and now only supports less than 900 people. 

How are people seeking asylum affected?

People who don’t have enough work or who are unable to work, have nowhere to turn apart from charities and community organisations. 

There is a rise in the number of people facing housing crisis situations and homelessness, food insecurity and mental health decline. 

Charities such as the Asylum Seekers Centre are unable to meet the increased scale and complexity of the challenges. 

Support provided during Covid-19 by state governments is being wound back in NSW this year which will further affect charities and community organisations from supporting people seeking asylum with financial relief. 

What needs to happen to support people?

The Federal Government can make an immediate impact on the levels of poverty and homelessness by responding in the May budget process. 

Expand the eligibility of the SRSS program

The program currently is focused on a harsh and unclear process to demonstrate that a person cannot work, rather than responding to vulnerability and need. 

The government must ensure that the criteria is clear and based on responding to need to ensure it prevents destitution. It must reverse the cruel cuts to the support program made over the past ten years to allow people to seek safety without becoming homeless or going without food. 

“There are decisions that could be implemented to interrupt and disrupt the cycle of poverty, and they require both fiscal and political will. They also require a deliberate decision by the government to include people seeking asylum in our community,” says ASC CEO, Frances Rush.

Read one family’s experience of living in poverty while seeking asylum.

“Hungry and afraid” – Fateema’s story of seeking asylum Photos from the ASC community Iftar dinner 2023