The Refugee Advocacy Service of SA, which provides pro bono migration assistance, is hoping to raise at least $50,000 to pay for professional interpreters to support them as they prepare asylum applications.
Chair of RASSA, barrister Taruna Heuzenroeder, said the service – like many others in Australia – was in a race against the clock to ensure applications were lodged before looming cut-off dates that have been flagged by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. She said each application took around six hours to prepare and generally an interpreter was needed for that period, which was a “costly exercise”.
About 24,000 people who arrived in Australia by boat between August 2012 and December 2013 are on the fast-track system for refugee assessment which was introduced in December 2014. All potential fast-track applicants are now required to apply for asylum.
Deadlines are imminent and the department has indicated it will no longer grant extensions of time. Those failing to meet the deadline risk losing Centrelink and Medicare benefits and having their bridging visas cancelled.
Refugee advocacy services in the eastern states are reportedly working extended hours and have brought in additional volunteers to help asylum seekers needing free assistance, however in some locations waiting lists stretch to more than a year.
In South Australia an estimated 2500 asylum seekers are affected and as of December last year 936 applications had been lodged.
Ms Heuzenroeder said RASSA had one part-time paid and 26 volunteer migration agents working on applications, with about 50 people currently on the waiting list. The average turnaround for applications is about three months.
“This is incredibly stressful for our clients,” she said, adding that “mixed messages” from the government about the actual cut-off dates for applications was also creating “uncertainty”.
“Our big concern is that there may be hundreds of others in the community who have not yet started the application process and they are seriously running out of time. If they haven’t been in contact with services such as the AMRC (Australian Migrant Resource Centre) or Red Cross they may not understand the time constraints or how to access assistance.”
She said changes to the review process of the fast-track system meant asylum seekers needed to disclose all information (such as rape or torture in war) in the initial application as they could not introduce new evidence as their case progressed – further highlighting the need for professional interpreting services to be included from the onset.
For more information about
RASSA’s fundraising campaign go to www.rassa.org.au