A meagre existence

“I know from working with asylum seekers that they’re not on their iPhones trying to work out what the Centrelink payments are,” says refugee advocate Fabia Claridge, getting on her soapbox.

“That’s absolute rubbish and those are mischievous, scurrilous stories being spread about them.”

Have you ever received an email asserting that refugees receive more social security money than pensioners? Correspondences of the sort actually originated from Canada and have been circulating for years, ultimately reaching tens of thousands of Australians.

Fact #1: contrary to the gossip, refugees like Diez are entitled to the same amount as every other fellow countryman or PR — no more, no less. Fact #2: asylum seekers don’t get any help from the government while they wait for their claims to be processed. None. Zero. Zilch.

They may, however, be eligible for monetary assistance from the Red Cross Asylum Seeker Assistance Scheme, which pays 89 per cent of the basic Centrelink allowance. That’s about $221 a week, but to be eligible, they need to meet financial hardship criteria and have waited six months or more for a Protection visa.

Asylum seekers are also precluded from accessing the official settlement support programs that are readily available to offshore humanitarian entrants, such as English classes or job-search courses.

So, it comes as no surprise that refugees are overrepresented among the ranks of the unemployed, underemployed, lowly paid, low-skilled and casualised members of Australia’s labour force.

What exacerbates the situation is a typical lack of English competency, local experience, and, most damning of all, a permanent visa. Many, like Majid, have endured enough trauma to physically and/or psychologically impair them for life. There’s also the stigma attached to being an asylum seeker in the first place, which appears to dissuade many potential employers.

But not everything is eternal doom and gloom.

Professor Graeme Hugo made a promising discovery in a 2011 report commissioned by the Department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC).

It was revealed that as time passes, the workforce participation level of refugees converges towards the national average — and in the second generation, it surpasses that of the Australian-born population.

There is still hope.


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