Let them Work. John Menadue

Last month, Bruce Kaye (guest blogger) and I wrote articles about the need for a change of government policy to allow asylum seekers to work. This is important for their dignity and self-respect and their integration into the Australian community. It would also be less costly to the Australian taxpayer and the Australian community.

Today the Asylum Seekers Centre, Sydney, and fifty other organisations have joined together to call on the Australian Government to allow all asylum seekers to work, whether they came by air or boat.

A press statement by the CEO of the ASC, Melanie Noden, follows:

United call for all asylum seekers, regardless of mode or date of arrival, who are released into the community on a bridging visa to be granted the right to work.

The Asylum Seekers Centre is proud to stand with over 50 organisations and 1200
individuals across Australia who believe asylum seekers should have the right to
work. The right to work is a basic and fundamental human right that we as a country
should proudly and loudly uphold.

CEO of the Asylum Seekers Centre, Melanie Noden, said finding work is of utmost
importance to asylum seekers. “It restores their self esteem and provides them with
the financial independence they so desperately need in order to start a new life. It
also provides them with a connection to society and gives them the opportunity to
contribute.”

And it’s not just us who thinks so. ‘Not allowing people the right to work is a
disgrace. We signed the Refugee Convention to protect people, not punish them.
The only reason the Government has implemented this is to punish people. Asylum
seekers are not illegal and should not be treated as such. Everyone should have the
right to work,’ says former Prime Minister, Mr Fraser.

As history has shown, having asylum seekers live on welfare, without any training or
skill development for years, deliberately hinders their potential to gain employment
when they do achieve permanent residency – and for boat arrivals 90.8% do become
permanent residents.

It is estimated that in 2013, 10,000 asylum seekers will be released nationally into
the community without work rights. There is no guarantee of the level of support
provided to these people. This will put strain on an already under resourced sector
and will impact the mental health and self-agency of thousands of asylum seekers.

John Menadue, Patron of the Asylum Seekers Centre, former diplomat and business
leader says the present policy of denial of work is cruel, denies the dignity of people
and does not deter future asylum seekers. “There is a persistent myth that refusal of
work rights and other penalties will deter new asylum seekers and particularly boat
people. But there is no evidence whatsoever that this deterrent works. In almost allcases asylum seekers are escaping appalling conditions, from the Taliban for
example. Those situations are far worse than anything that we can throw at them.
“But the burden on the individual is the greatest worry. Most asylum seekers have
escaped from terror and violence and many are traumatised. To deny them work
rights is likely to worsen their mental state. It makes it harder for others to help them
if they are forced into idleness.
“We need a breakthrough in this toxic political approach to asylum seekers.
Australia can do better than this. We have shown it in the past.”

The Government’s announcement in November last year prompted a group of
concerned not for profit organisations, individuals, businesses and community
groups to address the lack of right to work for asylum seekers. This includes those
who have arrived post August 13, 2012 and are subject to the new policy and those
who arrived prior to August 13, 2012 who have not been granted work rights.
Today, we have sent letters to the Prime Minister, Julia Gillard and Minister for
Immigration, Brendan O’Connor calling for the right to work for asylum seekers. As a
group, the signatories to the united statement call for:
• An undertaking from the Minister for Immigration to make a policy change
extending the right to work to all asylum seekers released into the community
on bridging visas, regardless of mode or date of arrival or stage in the refugee
determination process.
• The right to work is accompanied by the provision of basic employment
support services to increase the asylum seekers chance of employment.

To support asylum seekers and the work of the Asylum Seekers Centre, contact  http://givenow.com.au/asylumseekerscentre
For a full list of agencies supporting the statement please see
http://righttowork.com.au/take-action/supporters/

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