Illegal to work

Wicki Wickiramasingham says many asylum seekers are being banned from work while awaiting years for legal hearings. 235665_02 Picture: GARY SISSONS

By Cam Lucadou-Wells

An asylum seeker in the South East has been banned from paid work as he waits years on a legal bid to remain in Australia.

The man, effectively without a legal income, risks deportation by working cash-in-hand jobs to survive.

Otherwise he and his family depend on charity, he says.

The man says his protection visa – along with his permit to work – was revoked by the Federal Government after he launched a High Court of Australia appeal to stay in the country.

He is likely to wait for up to three years for his hearing – a case that will cost him $10,000.

After close to a decade in off-shore detention centres and in Australia, he says he risks persecution if he returns to his homeland.

“I could go back to the jails. I could die and no one would ask what happened to me.”

He was denied Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) payments – a program that has been cut in recent years.

Refugee advocate Wicki Wickiramasingham said he knew a lot of asylum seekers awaiting court cases in similar destitution.

He called on the Government to reinstate bridging visas with work and Medicare permits for those awaiting judicial reviews.

“Charity can only do so much,” he said.

The Southern Migrant and Refugee Centre deputy chair told of a local elderly and chronically ill woman without rights to Medicare.

She suffered a medical emergency but could not afford to be treated in hospital.

Only the good will of doctors acting for free saved her, Mr Wickiramasingham said.

Asylum Seeker Resource Centre director Abiola Ajetomobi said the situation was a “wake-up call” for new Home Affairs Minister Karen Andrews to “step up” and find permanent resettlement solutions.

The Government’s “punitive policy” was robbing people seeking asylum of the chance to work, study and meaningfully contribute, she said.

In the meantime, families’ mental health deteriorated under the insecurity and uncertainty.

“How are they going to survive? They’re in the lowest level of poverty.

“People want to be active participants in the community and they’re being robbed of that for no reason.”

The ASRC discourages people from working in cash jobs or exploitative conditions. Our employment services teach clients about “rights and responsibilities”, Ms Ajetomobi said.

However the pressures exerted on families to make ends meet were understandable, she said.

“I don’t know any reason why someone capable of working should not be able to work.

“The Government’s asylum system has broken them. People and familes are broken.”

A Department of Home Affairs spokesperson said protection visa applicants who are pursuing a judicial review “generally have permission to work if they had it on their last visa”.

A person’s eligibility for Medicare was based on their visa status, the spokesperson said.

SRSS eligibility assessments were done on a case-by-case basis.

“The SRSS program provides short-term, tailored support to individuals who are unable to support themselves while they engage with the Department of Home Affairs to resolve their immigration status.

“It is not an ongoing welfare entitlement.“

Bruce MP Julian Hill said he was not surprised by the reported cases.

“My office is seeing more and more distressing cases where vulnerable people have been left behind and abandoned by the Morrison Government.

“People treated awfully by Centrelink, and a surge in cruel decisions and delays in processing visa and citizenship applications.

“Australia is a decent country, and we can do better and treat people more fairly.”