No support in ‘game of attrition’

Siva is trapped in destitution due to being denied work rights and welfare. 208068_06 Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

In a “game of attrition”, Dandenong asylum seeker Siva has been suffering a brutal double-whammy.

For eight months, he has been denied an income.

He has no work rights and any Government support – while awaiting a final appeal against the Department of Home Affairs ruling he’s ineligible to stay.

It’s no accident, says South East Community Links general manager Chris Pierson. The “sick and sorry” system is designed to force people to leave these shores before their appeal is heard up to 18 months later.

“At the moment you can’t even get a place to go home if you want to.

“The situation has trapped people and it’s crushing.”

During the Covid-19 pandemic, a much larger group of bridging-visa and temporary protection visa holders have lost their jobs – and all income.

They are excluded from the Federal Government’s $130 billion JobKeeper and JobSeeker rescue packages.

SECL and other agencies are helping a “catastrophic” number with food and grants. But they don’t have the resources to pay the rent for hundreds of destitute households.

“You wouldn’t want to be looking for a job in the current labour market right now,” Mr Pierson said.

When allowed to ply his trade, Siva is a sought-after musician for Hindu Tamil weddings and cultural events. He is one of perhaps five exponents of the double-ended thavil drum.

But now Siva survives on community donations. They provide intermittent $400 donations for food and necessities.

“It’s very, very bad,” a shattered Siva says of his eight-month ordeal.

Ten years ago, he left behind his wife and children in Sri Lanka to build a better life in Australia. He hopes his family will one day join him, refugee advocate Wicki Wickramasingham says.

“He doesn’t want anything from anybody.

“He wants to stand on his own and make his own money.”

Mr Wickramaingham knows of 100 others on bridging visas in Victoria living in destitution as they await their appeals. Up to 15 are in Greater Dandenong, he says.

“It’s pretty typical. They’re separated from their families, living with depression and worries – and unable to do anything without help from the community.

“The Government should do something, and take a position to help people.”

In the past two years, bridging visa numbers in Australia have soared from 160,000 to 280,000.

Temporary protection visa holders total more than 17,000.

Greater Dandenong Council estimates that about 2000 asylum seekers live in the municipality.

Since 2018, the council campaigned against the Federal Government’s plans to remove Status Resolution Support Services payments from asylum seekers if they were deemed work ready.

The Department of Home Affairs was approached for comment.

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