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Providing a hand up to refugees and people seeking asylum this winter

Life is incredibly tough for people seeking asylum in Australia. Many are barred from working or studying and have no access to any form of social security – including the right to claim Medicare rebates.

Even under ideal circumstances, the majority struggle to afford basics such as food, rent, medical care or medicines, let alone vital legal aid, and are forced to rely on the goodness of charities.

On the eve of another bitter Victorian winter, people seeking asylum face even greater challenges, caught in a perfect storm of freezing weather and a cost-of-living crisis without the rights to fend for themselves.

Head of Humanitarian Operations and Resilience with the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC), Anastasia Magriplis, says the colder months always amplify the challenges for this already vulnerable group in our community, with many forced to make desperate choices – between paying rent or seeing a doctor, between paying a power bill or buying vital medicine.

Ms Magriplis says in winter their clients invariably need more clothing, as energy bills increase and food is less plentiful (therefore more expensive), they get ill more often, require more medicine and are more prone to poor mental health.

Those challenges are a perennial issue.

But threatening to make this winter even harder than usual is a cost-of-living crisis that has squeezed not only their clients’ costs, but also led to a drop in donations to the ASRC, which currently receives between 120 and 150 visits a day from clients, two-thirds of whom have serious concerns about housing insecurity. 

“Australians are obviously prioritising their own families, and we understand that it’s a hard time for everyone,” Ms Magriplis says.

“But this community [of refugees and people seeking asylum] have nowhere else to turn, and if we keep seeing a decline in donations, we’ll have to turn away more people.

“Cost of living affects charities, too. When prices go up in supermarkets, they go up for us too. When you consider we spend around $1 million providing nutritious food to around 1000 households each year, it’s a huge cost.

“Remember, these people don’t have anywhere to go apart from charities. They can’t go to Centrelink, they don’t have a health care card … so without a hand-up from ordinary Australians, this community would be in an even worse situation than what it is.”

Why not consider passing on your energy bill rebate of $300 to help families that don’t have enough to pay for their own rent, let alone bills?

Huyen Nguyen Manh, ASRC’s Food Services Manager, says two foodbanks provide for more than 1000 people a month, and serve about 50 meals a day, while food-related visits to the centre have surged by 30 per cent in the past six months alone.

But the cost-of-living crunch was also having an even more sinister and destructive impact on refugees – family breakdown.

Ms Magriplis says the pressures arising from the cost-of- living crisis have seen far higher numbers of single women and single mothers turning to the ASRC for help – the victims of broken homes.

That development has prompted the service to take the radical step of leasing a seven-bedroom house which can accommodate up to four families at a time.

“Some of these women have been forced to sleep rough,” Ms Magriplis says. “Having this house basically means four families don’t have to live in a hotel room, an entire family in one room and with no cooking facilities. But naturally, that comes at a huge cost to the organisation.”

But Ms Magriplis also warns against despondency, reminding Australians that modest, manageable donations can make a huge difference to the lives of refugees and people seeking asylum this winter.

“For as little as $20, you can help fund a community health nurse to do an immunisation, or a donation of $65 could go towards feeding a family of two for a week. Or $120 can help provide life-saving medication for a diabetic for three months, for example. If many give a little, it can change the lives of these people facing so much injustice.”

Click here to donate to ASRC’s Winter Appeal and provide a hand up for refugees and people seeking asylum.

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