These are a collection of experiences from the Asylum Seeker Project.
The public hearing of Senate Committee was held today (June 8, 2012) on the Parliamentary Inquiry into the Australian Human Rights Commission Amendment (National Children’s Commissioner) Bill of 2012. Caseworker and co-author of Hotham Mission ASP’s submission to the Human Right Commission, Kimberlea Cooper, presented to the Committee advocating on behalf of children seeking asylum in Australia. Below is an article from the Herald Sun on today’s hearing. Click here for original article.
‘Let commissioner protect asylum children’ says refugee groups
REFUGEE groups says the federal government has omitted asylum seeker children from a protection list to be overseen by the new national children’s commissioner.
A Senate inquiry into laws to set up the commissioner today heard evidence from refugee groups calling for the commissioner to have a role in protecting asylum seeker children.
They also want minors who crew asylum seeker boats and face people smuggling charges in Australia recognised in the draft laws.
Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project spokeswoman Kimberlea Cooper said the list needed to be expanded to include all children seeking asylum.
“Asylum seeker children are invisible sometimes and … we’re concerned about having a specific emphasis on these children so they are not forgotten,” she told the hearing in Canberra.
Asylum Seeker Resource Centre spokeswoman Jana Favero told the inquiry there were an estimated 100 unaccompanied minors still in detention centres.
“There is a lack of a safety net for asylum seeker children,” she said.
Ms Favero said pointed to examples of asylum seeker children living in community detention in Victoria being allowed to attend primary or secondary school regardless of restrictions on their parents’ visas.
However, many such families had no income to pay for school books, uniforms and stationary for students.
Australian Human Rights Commission president Catherine Branson told the inquiry the commissioner should be able to advocate for asylum seeker children.
Meanwhile, Secretariat of National Aboriginal and Islander Child Care spokeswoman Emma Sydenham said there should be a deputy commissioner within the children’s commissioner office focussing on indigenous children.
“They are the most vulnerable groups because of vast poverty, exclusion and discrimination,” she said.
The inquiry into Australian Human Rights Commission Amendment (National Children’s Commissioner) Bill 2012 continues.
In case you missed Elenie Poulos on Radio National’s Religion and Ethics Report, listen here for a great overview on the Uniting Church’s view on asylum seekers and a visit to Christmas Island.
Hotham Mission ASP’s Chairperson, Maureen Postma, writes…..
While the situation of people arriving by boat has dominated media attention, the level of urgent need among asylum seekers in the community has risen dangerously in recent months, lifting the call for Hotham ASP’s services well beyond our capacity to respond.
I write to ask for your help for the most vulnerable asylum seekers struggling to survive in our community this Winter. Hotham ASP needs $180,000 to help the most vulnerable children, women and men being referred to us as we enter the winter months.
The average length of wait for the limited welfare payments provided through the Red Cross has more than doubled over this time last year. Most of those waiting have severe housing problems. Many more asylum seekers are close to destitution much earlier in their time in Australia. Many of Hotham’s clients have work rights but are unable to secure work. Ill health, transport difficulties, poor English, and lack of recognised work history, are just some of the barriers they face. Others have mental health problems, but are not getting support.
Referral to Hotham Mission Asylum Seeker Project is often the only option the Red Cross and other agencies can offer these poorest children, women and men.
Majid has faced all these issues in the five years he’s been waiting for a visa outcome. Although desperately keen for the security of a full-time job, the persecution he suffered as a young man in his homeland has left him prone to sleeplessness and bouts of depression. With a series of part-time jobs, Majid has continued “floating around”, sleeping in friends’ lounge rooms and often relying on their generosity.
After Majid was referred to Hotham ASP, he was given a Basic Living Allowance, which meant he could contribute to his friends’ households until we found him rent-free accommodation. He now shares a house donated to Hotham with two other single men, which has provided him with the comfort and solidarity of a new social network. This stability has allowed him to embark on a short hospitality course, which should lead to more fulfilling and sustainable employment as he awaits the outcome of his visa application.
The asylum seekers who are referred to Hotham Mission ASP are the most vulnerable. They often have complex needs and arrive at their lowest point, and yet our caseworkers are almost always able to help these clients to regain control of their lives through the re-discovery and development of their own strengths. They all must go through the determination processes that will decide whether they are granted residency on the basis of being a refugee or having a humanitarian claim upheld by the Minister. Whatever their case and whatever the outcome, our aim is to ensure that the most vulnerable children, women and men have their human rights upheld, are saved from further physical and emotional trauma while they live in our community, and are readied for life in Australia or return to the country they left.
This latter part, the often heartbreaking job of counselling and preparing people who must return, sometimes after waiting a long time, is often overlooked. It’s another aspect of Hotham’s work and approach that sets out team apart, and which we can only maintain with your steadfast support.
I commend the Hotham ASP June newsletter to you and as always we would be very grateful if you could forward it to others who may be interested. Of particular note in this edition are two articles telling the story so far of Hotham’s work with the first group of unaccompanied young people to be released from detention centres into community housing and care in Victoria.
Lastly, please help us promote Hotham’s team in the Run Melbourne fun run on July 17. We’d love you, your family, and friends to join in and help us reach our target of $30,000. There’s more information below and in the attached newsletter.
Hassan is typical of young men who have reached Hotham ASP at their very lowest ebb. After arriving by plane from war-torn northern Pakistan in late 2008, the amiable 21-year-old secured a room and a part-time job, but his declining health – fuelled by sleepless nights and perpetual nightmares – saw his circumstances spiral slowly out of his control.
After losing his job and then his home, Hassan was referred to a psychologist and treated with sleeping pills and anti-depressants. But still the nightmares came. “My family was dying before my eyes every night,” he recalls.
When he arrived at Hotham in late 2010, Hassan was penniless, homeless, and on the verge of a complete breakdown. His suffering could only have deepened, were it not for help given to Hotham ASP by our Our Lady of Good Counsel Parish, which has provided two houses in eastern Melbourne to people like Hassan in desperate need of safety and security and the chance to re-find their own strength.
“We’ve been touched by the courageous stories of many of these young men, heading out on their own to build a better life for their families,” says parish priest Fr Brendan Reed. “We just want to do whatever little we can to help.”
For Hassan, that help has been life-changing. During nine months in Our Lady’s house, he has returned to professional counselling, completed his application for protection, and secured a new job. He left the house and took up private rental in November, and has applied to join a TAFE small business management course. “The future is definitely brighter now,” he says.