FRANCES RUSH: Reflections on the year for people seeking asylum

 Last year was a very  challenging year for people seeking asylum and the many Australians who support them.

It can be difficult to realise the depth of your capacity until it is tested. In some ways this describes 2019 at the Asylum Seekers Centre and within the community of people seeking asylum in Australia.

Since May 2018 Federal government cuts to basic income support have deeply impacted people seeking asylum. Homelessness, destitution and dangerously poor mental health have all increased and every day at the ASC we see hard-working people finding it difficult to support themselves.

The ASC and other agencies in the community sector have seen the need and responded by making services stretch further and innovating to support more people find work, stable accommodation, health care and their daily living needs.

The Asylum Seekers Centre is a not-for-profit organisation with a voluntary board of directors. We rely on grants, donations, some state government support, a dedicated professional staff and a team of more than 400 volunteers to provide support and services for people seeking asylum. In the past year the ASC has supported more than 4000 people in the Sydney area.

But the response to this depth of human need can not be left up to charities and volunteers. It is incumbent on governments at all levels to recognise the conditions under which people are living when they seek safety in Australia. People seeking asylum include children and families. In fact, almost 25% of the people the ASC supports are under the age of 18.

While they wait for an indeterminate amount of time for their applications to be processed, they are in limbo. But they are also living as members of our community. People seeking asylum attend our public schools, our places of worship and work in our neighbourhoods. They deserve the rights accorded to all members of our community; to be supported to live full lives, to access health care, education, legal services and be able to contribute to the society with work and skills.

I am pleased to say that many of our cultural institutions see the value of the contribution people seeking asylum can make to our community. The Art Gallery of NSW has had an ongoing collaboration with the Asylum Seekers Centre for the past two years which has produced, amongst many wonderful outcomes, an artistic collaboration now on display at the Gallery. The artwork, By Your Side, co-created by artist Claudia Nicholson and young people from the ASC is part of the gallery’s Belonging exhibition, which presents the voices and experiences of young people who have experienced displacement and upheaval.

The Art Gallery of NSW has proactively sought to include a diverse range of voices and experiences of people living in our community. This partnership is so important because the Art Gallery of NSW is publically, symbolically and in a very practical way saying that all people are welcome.

Meanwhile, for people detained offshore in Manus and Nauru, this year has brought the hope that came with the Medevac legislation and also the despair of the law’s repeal in December. The medical community, refugee advocates and lawyers have campaigned tirelessly to defend the basic human right to adequate health care for detainees.

It is clear that the responsibility of Senator Lambie’s position weighed heavily on her, but it is at the government’s feet the responsibility truly lies for this repeal. The details of what was shared between Lambie and the Government, a deal or not, still remains a secret. Australians have the right to know and to demand better treatment for people who are in indefinite detention under our watch.

The Asylum Seekers Centre is proud to have been a part of the Medical Evacuation Response Group which assisted with applications to the Minister for medical evacuations.

This repeal only strengthens our resolve to continue supporting people seeking asylum, on shore in Australia and offshore in detention.

There are many in the Australian community who want to welcome people who are seeking asylum. They support the work of the Asylum Seekers Centre by writing about our work, volunteering, providing grocery donations, sharing employment opportunities, inviting a community speaker and through generous donations.

I invite you to join them by visiting the ASC website, making a donation and keeping in touch with our work via Facebook.

www.asylumseekerscentre.org.au

www.facebook.com/asylumseekerscentre

Frances Rush OAM is the Chief Executive Officer of the Asylum Seekers Centre.

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F 02 9078 1999
Asylum Seekers Centre
Becher House, 43 Bedford Street
Newtown NSW 2042
http://asylumseekerscentre.org.au
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