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Delivering emergency relief to asylum seekers in the community

Robert Gruhn is Public Policy and Advocacy Officer at the UnitingCare Victoria and Tasmania, a network of 26 community service agencies within the Uniting Church, Synod of Victoria and Tasmania. In today’s post he outlines new research on the significant disadvantage faced by asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas and in community detention.

Asylum seekers living in the community on bridging visas and in community detention are at serious risk of disadvantage, isolation and marginalisation, new research by UnitingCare Victoria and Tasmania (UCVT) shows.

The UCVT report focuses on the emergency relief and other crisis support services provided to asylum seekers at 11 UnitingCare service sites. It finds that these sites are under-resourced to provide sufficient services to address the complex needs of asylum seekers.

UnitingCare Werribee Support & Housing (UCWS&H) provides a case study of the ‘on the ground’ challenges faced by such service providers. Chief Executive Officer Carol Muir is responsible for emergency relief delivery at the agency’s Werribee office. She notes that while basic assistance such as food and material aid are critical and urgently needed, another challenge is to find ways to offer programs that promote the social inclusion of asylum seekers within their local communities.

UCWS&H, in partnership with Crossroads Uniting Church and the Western Metropolitan Cricket Association, has enjoyed some success in introducing 18 Sri Lankan asylum seekers to local cricket clubs resulting in many of them participating in an inaugural Sri Lankan/Australian ‘Ashes’ cricket match and BBQ. This led to some of UCWS&H Sri Lankan services users joining local cricket clubs and participating in matches throughout the cricket season.

The agency, in partnership with the Wyndham Humanitarian network, has also developed a service directory in relevant languages, to enable their asylum seeker community to access the local service network for support with health, education, additional language services, and religious and cultural activities.

UCWS&H also provides a valuable opportunity for asylum seekers to become part of the agency in the same way as other service users. Asylum seekers have been recruited as emergency relief volunteers, offering them the opportunity to engage and use their skills in working with other volunteers, asylum seekers, and their local communities. Some of them assist with verbal translating in direct service provision and to prepare service information in relevant community languages.

The Victorian community sector is increasingly recognising  that as well as needing emergency relief and material aid, asylum seekers need access to tailored programs that facilitate their community connection and engagement. UnitingCare agencies like UCWSH are increasingly turning their attention to projects that provide participants with opportunities to express themselves, to use their strengths, and have something meaningful to do.

UCVT believes there should be a ‘whole-of-sector’, coordinated approach to expand existing services and programs, and support initiatives that develop complementary innovative services such as men’s sheds, community gardens and cultural events, which help reduce social isolation and build new skills.

The recommendations in UCVT’s recent research report, aimed at ensuring asylum seekers in the community can access adequate support while awaiting their visa application outcomes, include:

  1. Provide adequate funding for emergency relief and material aid
  2. Provide adequate funding for meaningful engagement programs
  3. Provide additional funding for specialist staff
  4. Address communication, language and cultural barriers
  5. Provide opportunities for education, training and volunteering
  6. Grant all asylum seekers in the community the right to work and assist agencies to help with job search
  7. Build and strengthen local networks to effectively respond to emerging needs
  8. More support to find and maintain adequate and affordable housing.

The development of appropriate and adequate support services will be limited if the voices of local communities are not taken into account. Further research is needed to provide the perspectives of asylum seekers in ‘their own voice’, to find out what support works, what doesn’t work and what they believe the community sector can do to better respond to their needs.

Find the complete and updated report here > UCVT Asylum Seekers Research Report.

To become involved in the work of UnitingCare Werribee Support & Housing, or donate to their work, please contact the agency on 9742 6452 or visit http://www.wsh.org.au.