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Give Asylum Seekers the Right to Work By Emily Williamson

Asylum seekers fleeing from persecution have been completely dehumanised by the Australian government. They are known as ‘boat people’, ‘queue jumpers’ or illegals’. The politicisation surrounding asylum seekers is inhumane and the fear unfounded, and for those who manage to reach Australia, the battle has just begun.


As an alternative to detention, a bridging visa can be offered to asylum seekers. A bridging visa is a temporary visa which allows an asylum seeker to stay in Australia whilst their claims are being processed. They receive financial assistance equivalent to around eightynine per cent of the dole, which amounts to around $200 per week– barely enough to survive after rent, bills and other living expenses. Asylum seekers, however, who arrived by boat after 13 August 2012 and given a bridging visa, do not have the right to work at all, forcing them into indefinite poverty. This is despite the fact that in 2012, 90.8 per cent of boat arrivals were found to be genuine refugees and granted permanent protection visas by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship. Although bridging visas are more humane and affordable than living indefinitely in detention centres, the support for those living amongst us is lacking. Denying

asylum seekers the right to work results in the deterioration of their mental and physical health, increases their risk of labour exploitation and creates a bigger burden on already under-resourced charities attempting to support them. Sophie Dutertre is the employment program manager at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, and said in addition to not allowing newly arrived asylum seekers to work, Immigration Minister Scott Morrison has also failed to renew expired visas for asylum seekers already working. ‘Morrison has put everything on standstill until temporary visas are approved and employers won’t accept them without legitimate work rights, so a lot of people have lost their jobs,’ she said. Ms Dutertre said she believes the government aren’t allowing asylum seekers to work because they are scared people will flock to Australia for employment. ‘What actually happens when people are able to work and earn money and support themselves is they’re in a better place to consider return than [those] left in destitution, getting depressed because the effect on their mental health [from]not being able to work and not have a visa is terrible; they’re not in a place to consider return.’ Ms Dutertre said permitting asylum seekers to work would alleviate anxiety and depression, and allow asylum seekers to support themselves as well as send money back to their families.


‘A lot of these guys, despite the way they’ve been treated, actually want to contribute and give back. For them working is a way to give back,’ she said. By not allowing asylum seekers to work, the government is missing out on a valuable opportunity. ‘[When people] work they contribute, they pay taxes, they spend money. Instead [we have] a population who is unable to work, unable to contribute, unable to spend any money. It’s a burden – we’ve created a burden instead of creating a very active, contributing population.’ The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is campaigning for asylum seekers’ right to work and assisting those who are allowed into the workforce. Asylum Seeker Service for Employment and Training (ASSET) was established in 2004 and is a pioneer of asylum seeker employment and education services in Australia. It has assisted over 1000 asylum seekers in all areas of employment and training, and is crucial to help those who would be subject to poverty without work. This program allows asylum seekers to participate in the community and support themselves, and enables employers to access a largely untapped pool of skilled workers. ASSET assists asylum seekers in several ways:

• Employment Casework – supports asylum seekers by building a structured pathway to employment.

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Edition 3  

The 3rd edition of AM-UNITY magazine is out now! Just click on the magazine cover on the left to view our latest edition - in it we explore...