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High price of ‘freedom’ for refugees

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Refugees transferred to Australia from Papua New Guinea and Nauru for medical reasons, including 30 people living in community detention in Adelaide, have been given three weeks’ notice to find a job and a place to live.

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In a cruel twist, the refugees have been granted six-month visas allowing them to live freely in the community but they must leave their current accommodation and will lose any government financial support.

Since August the Federal Minister for Home Affairs Peter Dutton has begun using his ministerial intervention powers to decide who to remove from community detention. So far 188 refugees have been notified with another 327 people facing the same fate.

Information provided by the Federal Government to the Refugee Council of Australia confirms that the families and individuals being removed from community detention are granted Final Departure Bridging Visas that give them the right to work but no access to any Federal financial assistance other than Medicare.

“With no prior work experience in Australia and no right to study to gain relevant qualifications, few will be able to find jobs at a time when unemployment has been increasing rapidly,” says the Refugee Council.

“While the people affected will theoretically be freer than they have been over the past seven years, many of them fear that they will not be able to earn enough for food, rent and basic living expenses.

“It is extraordinary that they are being given just three weeks to make such a challenging transition after years of being prevented from supporting themselves.”

Mercy Sister and refugee advocate Meredith Evans said in Adelaide volunteer groups such as Circle of Friends and Vinnies were stepping in to provide emergency assistance to prevent these people ending up homeless and destitute but there was a limit to what they could do.

She said many of the people brought to Australia for medical reasons continued to have serious health issues and were extremely vulnerable.

Lyn Kerkham, a member of Circle of Friends, has been visiting two Nepalese women for the past 12 months while they were in community detention.

Both were evacuated from Nauru about two years ago and after receiving medical treatment were placed in Kilburn Detention Centre and then community detention.

When the women, who are in their 30s, received a notice “out of the blue” that they had been granted Departure Bridging Visas last month, they couldn’t wait to tell Lyn the good news.

However, when they learned of the ramifications, Lyn said they were “really worried”.

“It was a shock to them to have to suddenly make big decisions about where to live and to make a start on finding work,” she said.

“Working through it, even for me as a privileged, educated woman, has been so frustrating.

“To get rent you need not just evidence of your names, you need 100 points of ID which they don’t have – they have no passport or driver’s licence – and you need a national police check to apply for a job, even for unskilled work. To get a police check you need 100 points of ID too.”

The two women fled Nepal separately after experiencing what Lyn described as “a horrible situation” which left them no option but to leave.

“They were very scared,” she said.

“At one time they both worked on farms and used to walk for an hour to get to work at 7am and finish at 7pm, then walk home for an hour.

“Their life in rural Nepal was incredibly difficult.”

Lyn said young girls in rural Nepal faced a bleak future and often found themselves in situations where they were exploited.

While on Nauru one of the women worked in a restaurant and café and proudly showed Lyn her awards for ‘Best Employee of the Month’ and ‘Employee of the Year’. The other maintained the clothing shop and put her sewing skills to work.

She said they were willing to do any sort of work, and when a local supermarket manager agreed to look at their resumes they immediately took a bus and a tram from one side of the city to the other to drop them off in person.

Lyn is desperately trying to get documents that could count as evidence of identity – bank statements, phone bills and anything else with a name and address – that would help to get the police check process underway. She said it was pointless trying to find a place to rent without a job.

“At every turn there is an obstacle,” she said.

“For example, if you have an out of date phone you can’t apply for online jobs and so you have to go to the library to use the computer but then there can be problems there and you can’t necessarily access the documents you need.”

The women receive assistance in looking for work from their Life Without Barriers caseworker and employment mentor but after the three weeks they will no longer have that support.

“They really will be on their own and dependent on charities,” Lyn said.

Any employer needing workers for a warehouse, supermarket, processing, hospitality, cleaning or food production can contact Lyn on 0466 725 217.

With affordable rental accommodation limited, Circle of Friends is also interested in hearing from anyone with capacity to help with temporary or long-term housing and is seeking donations to meet the growing demand for assistance.

Visit cofa.org.au or phone Sr Meredith on 0413 208 691.

 

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