JRS: Pandemic leaves refugees and asylum-seekers in dire need

More than 150 people attended a Zoom meeting earlier this month to hear JRS Australia staff describe the dire situation facing refugees and asylum seekers in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic. JRS Director Carolina Gottardo said it is a crisis situation. ‘They have been excluded from government support and have to rely on charity to eat and buy basic necessities.’.

Jesuit Refugee Service, and other like organisations, are stepping up to help refugees and asylum-seekers who have been ignored in federal government responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than 150 people attended a Zoom meeting earlier this month to hear JRS Australia Director Carolina Gottardo, JRS Policy, Advocacy and Communications Manager Nishadh Rego, and JRS caseworker Maegan Williams explain the impact of Covid-19 on refugees and asylum-seekers.

While the federal government has generally been praised for its moves to provide income and support for Australians during this pandemic, a significant proportion of people, mainly temporary visa holders, refugees and asylum seekers living in the community, have been left in dire straits.

Carolina said it is a crisis situation with many people losing their jobs and having no access to support. ‘They have been excluded from government support and have to rely on charity to eat and buy basic necessities’, she said.

One of the saddest aspects, she said, was that individuals and families who had become independent of charity welfare were now back again. Homelessness and destitution had increased, while food security and access to health providers were major issues.

During this time the only activities JRS had suspended were community activities because of health concerns, otherwise its work was continuing. ‘The need is enormous,’ Carolina said.

JRS has summed up its concerns for people seeking protection in the Australian community who have been left without any resources in a preliminary discussion paper and offered a number of recommendations.

JRS is concerned the combination of employment losses and the absence of a safety net will generate increases in homelessness and destitution; that people who are homeless will find it harder to self-isolate, and therefore may be at greater risk of contracting and transmitting COVID-19; that people without Medicare or access to a Health Care Card may not be able to access timely health care during the COVID-19 pandemic; and, that women on temporary visas are at a particularly higher risk of domestic/family violence during the pandemic.

Maegan illustrated the problem by talking about families who had been managing well, working and contributing to their communities but had now been thrown back onto relying on charity.

Maegan said many people wanted to help and they could do this in three ways:

  1. Donation of Foodbank items. ‘Response from community groups, parishes and schools has been great but the reality is it goes out as quickly as it comes in. Need people to partner with us to stock shelves and help.’ 

  2. Donations of time to Foodbank. ‘A lot of manual labour in packing, delivering and driving is needed.’

  3. Donations of funds. ‘Our case work is being overrun with people contacting us for financial assistance with rent and medicines. In April we spent whole month’s budget by 8 April. It was only through our emergency cash donation appeal from all of our supporters that pulled us through for the rest of the month.’

Anyone wishing to help JRS help can:

  • Sign and share the petition calling on a safety net for all at change.org

  • Donate to the emergency cash appeal at jrs.org.au/donate-now/ or call +61 2 9356 3888

  • Donate or organise a food drive. Non-perishable food and toiletries such as basmati rice, cooking oil, long life milk, tinned tuna, red kidney beans, lentils, chickpeas and fruit, biscuits and muesli bars, oats and cereal most needed. For more information contact savage@jrs.org.au or zoe.grant@jrs.org.au

  • Volunteer with JRS as many Foodbank volunteers such as driver, packer or dispatcher are needed. Contact turner@jrs.org.au for more information.

  • Call your local MP to demand change.