Where is our moral compass?

Jack de Groot, CEO St Vincent de Paul Society NSW

Ali came to Australia alone by boat in 2012 fleeing persecution in Iraq. His serious health issues, some brought on by the trauma he’s been exposed to, mean he can’t work. And so he doesn’t have the money for medication and relies on the generosity of his friends.

Penniless, Ali had no representation for his court hearing and had limited access to free legal advice. Without a lawyer and unable to read the English court documents, he relied on a translator when presenting his own case in court. Needless to say, his plea was unsuccessful and he was rejected at Federal Circuit Court.

That’s when Ali approached the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW; he’s now being assisted by our Asylum Seeker Program (ASP) with food vouchers, accommodation and health assistance, and legal support.

Ali has two options: to apply for Ministerial Intervention (where less than one per cent of people are successful) or to return home.

People seeking asylum who receive government funding only receive up to 89 per cent of the already low Newstart allowance. After they receive a second negative decision at merits review (relating to their refugee status), this limited government funding is removed and they have little to no access to services essential for their survival. Like Ali, they face Medicare restrictions, and some have had their work rights removed.

The ASP hopes to advocate for Ali and fight for him to remain in Australia.

Right now Vinnies is using its own funds to provide financial assistance, accommodation, case management and practical support for two groups* of men, women and children seeking asylum, including Ali.

Since July we have already assisted 11 individuals and one family. We are providing accommodation to two people through our community housing provider Amélie Housing. We are also funding the Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS) to provide free judicial review assistance and jointly fund a position on the Refugee Council of Australia.

We believe these men, women and children must all be allowed to stay in our communities to rebuild their lives and be allowed to do this with dignity.

This week – Anti-Poverty Week – Vinnies is focussing on the poverty facing people seeking asylum, not only offshore, but onshore here in NSW. They are among the most vulnerable groups in NSW, experiencing extreme poverty and disadvantage

Last night (Thursday) we held our annual Rosalie Rendu Forum. Emeritus Professor Gillian Triggs was our keynote speaker on People Seeking Asylum in Our Community – a human rights perspective. She was recently appointed inaugural patron of Refugee Advice and Casework Service (RACS).

Emer. Prof. Triggs spoke about how little public interest there is in the plight of the men, women and children who are in Australia now.

She notes how the draconian measures by the Government are forcing people seeking asylum into poverty and homelessness. And as they become dehumanised by the process they become less visible and less heard.

For her, it is tragic that it has been left charities like Vinnies to meet the needs of the people in our communities whom governments have abandoned through heartless policies.

Clearly the Government has abrogated on its responsibilities. It’s been left to us to step into the breach to look after people with nowhere else to go.

That is why we launched our campaign during Anti-Poverty Week: we are calling upon our members and supporters to take action. We must ensure that the stories of people rendered invisible are heard and their resilience and inspiration are recognised.

Punitive policies and public indifference beg the question, where is our nation’s moral compass? Certainly not pointing north east to Manus Island or Nauru.

* One group that Vinnies supports is those who were brought to Australia from offshore detention for medical reasons (referred to as the ‘Regional Processing Centre (RPC) clients). The Federal Government has issued a new visa to this group – the final departure Bridging E Visa. Under this visa, income support of about $200 a fortnight ceased on Monday 28 August and they were promptly moved out of government-supported accommodation.

The second  group consists of vulnerable ‘post review’ clients who were given a negative decision at the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA) or the Administrative Appeals Tribunal, and are currently appealing their refugee status at the courts or applying for Ministerial Intervention.