By David Kavanagh
Asylum seekers who have their migrant applications rejected while temporarily living in Australia are being cut off from vital support systems and forced to survive on charity alone, say refugee rights activists.
The Department of Immigration and Border Protection issues temporary bridging visas allowing people to legally live in the community while their applications for asylum are processed.
If a claim or appeal is rejected, financial aid, the right to work, and other support services that come with some classes of bridging visas may be taken away.
Cali Dusra, a 30-year-old Sinhalese asylum seeker whose name has been changed to protect his identity, recently had his appeal rejected by a Refugee Review Tribunal alongside four of his friends.
“They want to apply for the next process [of appeal] but they need to pay more than $6000 for lawyers and haven’t got any income support [anymore],” said Mr Dusra’s friend, who was translating for him.
“The situation is very bad for food too.
“They just have one or two meals everyday.”
Fleeing persecution in Sri Lanka in 2012, Mr Dusra spent more than six months in detention before being granted a bridging visa in Perth.
“They are just spending time with emptiness at home,” said his friend.
While some in his situation receive charity donations from organisations like the not-for-profit Coalition for Asylum Seekers, Refugees and Detainees, Mr Dusra has not yet been given any help.
Refugee Rights Action Network’s Michelle Bui said the government is cutting support to persuade asylum seekers to return to their country of origin on their own so it doesn’t have to deport or detain them.
“The government is trying to starve them out,” she said.
“[Asylum seekers] can choose to ‘voluntarily’ return though of course for many this is not a viable option.”
A few countries like Iran do not accept forced deportees, leaving the future for some especially uncertain.
“Those who exhaust appeals [and cannot be deported] essentially face indefinite detention in Australia with no prospect of release,” said Ms Bui.
Last week, Ms Bui had been speaking to Afghan asylum seeker Khodayar Amini on the phone when he self-immolated near the Melbourne suburb of Dandenong.
She said prior to taking his life, Mr Amini had voiced distress over a lack of support and concerns about being re-detained or deported back to Afghanistan.
“People living in these situations are often dealing with fears for family back home, in addition to anxiety around their own circumstance,” she said.
“Being made reliant on charity and being denied the opportunity to work… further denigrates peoples’ sense of independence and self worth.
“Feelings of hopelessness and despair [can follow].”
The DIBP was approached for comment.