Government COVID announcements and people seeking asylum

In light of the COVID-19 Pandemic the government has announced several measures to support people during this time. We analysed them to see if people seeking asylum are eligible to access support.  

People seeking asylum are those who have applied for protection visa with the Department of Home Affairs and are waiting for the outcome. They are normally on a Bridging visa during this time. 

Refugees are people who have been granted a permanent or a temporary protection visa. They do have access to Centrelink payments. This post only deals with those who are currently seeking asylum. It is estimated that there 16000 people currently seeking asylum in Australia. 

COVID supplement and access to social security payments

People who are already receiving Centrelink payments such as Jobseeker payment (former Newstart) will now be getting an extra $550 per fortnight in addition to their payment. Residency rules apply to qualify for this payment and people on bridging visas are not eligible.

A one-off $750 Corona virus supplement is given to a selected list of eligible Centrelink payments. People on bridging visas are not eligible

Jobkeeper payment

Affected employers will be able to claim a fortnightly payment of $1,500 per eligible employee from 30 March 2020, for a maximum period of 6 months.

People seeking asylum on bridging visas are not eligible as residency rules apply. Only are an Australian citizen, the holder of a permanent visa, a Protected Special Category Visa Holder, a non-protected Special Category Visa Holder who has been residing continually in Australia for 10 years or more, or a Special Category (Subclass 444) Visa Holder can access this payment. 

Medicare support at home – whole of population telehealth 

Not all people seeking asylum are eligible for Medicare. Those who are not eligible for Medicare, will not be able to access telehealth. 

Moratorium on evictions 

Evictions will be put on hold for 6 months by the states and territories. No further details have been released yet. 

Mental health and family violence counselling services funding

While funding is welcome; for people seeking asylum who have no income it may be difficult to reach out to those services. Many report having no money for phone credit; or choosing between food and a phone credit to be able to call for help.

Relief services for vulnerable Australians

An additional $200 million will be provided to support charities and other community organisations which provide emergency and food relief. The list of service providing such support can be found here.

The Prime Minister’s description of these services used the language of ‘helping Australians’. It is unclear whether people seeking asylum can access these services. They may be on a case by case basis with selected organisations.  

In conclusion

It is vital that people seeking asylum can access income support and Medicare benefits during the pandemic. Some, such an LGBTIQ+ people will find themselves in even more precarious positions, facing persistent homophobia and transphobia and not being able to rely on their families or ethnic communities for support, with these groups often being the first to persecute them for their sexual orientation and/or gender identity. 

With businesses scaling down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many LGBTIQ+ people seeking asylum are facing the loss of their casual employment. Without a stable income, they are struggling to put food on the table or pay their rent, and with scarce access to affordable housing, it drives people to destitution. 

In March 2020 we ran a survey among LGBTIQ+ people seeking asylum to understand their changing needs in light of the pandemic. They reported the following:

  • casual employment shifts are being reduced or cut completely;
  • it is impossible to gain new employment due to the reduction in employment opportunities as well as employers’ reluctance to hire people on Bridging visas; 
  • healthcare needs remain unmet and exacerbate with no access to Medicare; 
  • they have no phone credit to call services that moved to online service delivery; and 
  • no money to travel to access essential services. 

With no guaranteed financial support and being in social isolation the situation worsens day by day.

If you can donate, please support: 

– LGBTIQ+ asylum seekers: https://chuffed.org/project/queer-refugees-and-covid

– Refugee Advice and Casework Service https://racs-emergency-appeal.raisely.com

– Asylum Seekers Centre (Sydney) https://www.asrc.org.au/donate/

– Twenty10 https://www.twenty10.org.au/donate/

Send letters to your local members and sign on petitions: 

  • Refugee Council of Australia letter to MP on five priorities to support people seeking asylum 
  • Asylum Seekers Resource Centre petition for protection of people seeking asylum

When sending the letter to your local members or making donations to organisations, please also raise awareness of the challenges that LGBTIQ people seeking asylum experience. 

Sources: Services Australia; Australian government Australia.gov.au and business.gov.au