The St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn has a long history of helping migrants and refugees. Our Caritas Christi Conference is dedicated to helping asylum seekers and refugees through their ten members. In the past year the conference has responded to 85 requests for assistance coming from 30 individuals.

One family in particular whom the conference assisted was Amira* and Farid* and their six children. They fled their home in Syria as a result of the war and spent time in Lebanon and Egypt before coming to Australia. Farid was the first to settle in Australia, with Amira and their six children following on a spousal visa.

Caritas Christi first had contact with the family in early 2016, as they were experiencing financial hardship. Amira and Farid were paying the high cost of private rental housing and were at risk of becoming homeless. The family had very little furniture and a number of crippling debts. The children had not been attending school and the family was socially isolated.

The conference contacted our Family Services area to talk about how we as an organisation could effectively support this family who had been going through so much.

Family Services were able to offer transitional housing and support to apply for social housing. Farid and Amira were referred to financial counselling to assist them with managing their debt.

The conference still provides food, furniture and clothing assistance to the family when needed. All of the children are now enrolled in a primary school close to where they are living, and a volunteer tutor is teaching Amira to speak English. She is also tutoring her children.

Farid and Amira are now on track to have secure, affordable and permanent housing. With their children attending school, their social isolation is slowly being broken down and the tutoring is helping Amira feel more confident each day.

The situation of this family highlights the trauma that comes with many refugee and asylum seeker families. It reminds us about our responsibility to ensure these people are not forgotten and are given the best possible chance of having loving and rewarding lives with supports around them.

In May of 2016, the St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn office continued to voice our concerns about the voiceless.  In the ACT there were approximately 150 asylum seekers awaiting an invitation to apply for a temporary protection visa under the ‘Fast Track’ process. All applications will be assessed against the requirements for a protection visa. If the application is found not to meet these requirements, the applicants face deportation within 90 days.  

When an application is refused, asylum seekers are no longer eligible to receive government funded support services – this includes loss of work rights, removal of access to any Centrelink benefits and loss of access to casework support through the Status Resolution Support Services program. As such, the community sector refers to these people as ‘asylum seekers without income’.

“We are extremely concerned that these vulnerable men, women and children will fall through the cracks,” Paul Trezise, CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society Canberra/Goulburn office said.

Therefore the Society joined forces with fellow community groups Red Cross, Marist Youth Care, Companion House, Canberra Men’s Centre, Anglicare, Catholic Care, Kippax Uniting Care and St John’s Care to help support asylum seekers without income with material aid, legal advice, counselling and medical assistance.

With no capacity to receive income, these vulnerable and sometimes highly traumatised people have no choice but to rely on the support of organisations such as the St Vincent de Paul Society. We do not take that responsibility lightly and are working across the whole of the organisation to put in place supports and assistance, to ensure everyone is able to have the quality of life they deserve.

*Names changed for privacy reasons