You, your sister and your mother have now all arrived in Egypt. Applying for asylum under the parameters of the UNHCR you can move about freely in the city. Initially receiving the Yellow Card, you are merely considered an asylum seeker, legally stateless and displaced, unable to be resettled. To be granted refugee status, you need to be granted a Blue Card. Processing can sometimes take years. Your path ahead is filled with uncertainty.
As of 31 December 2015, more than 65 million people were forcibly displaced. Of these, 21.3 million were refugees and 3.2 million people were seeking asylum. More than half of the world’s UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR)-mandated refugees come from just three countries: Afghanistan, Syria and Somalia. In addition, more than half of the people displaced are children.
For many refugees, resettlement is a highly appropriate solution. However, there are far too few resettlement places available. Fewer than 1% of the refugees under UNHCR’s mandate get access to resettlement each year. Of those identified conservatively by UNHCR as being in need of resettlement, more than 85% are not resettled.
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You move in with your Aunt and your cousins. The generosity of your Aunt during the first six months allowed you to save and apply for housing. Your other aunts and cousins also assisted you in locating services, as your sister wasn’t allocated a case worker or social worker because of the humanitarian program you had arrived on.
People who are seeking asylum and refugees in particular face significant barriers to finding a home after arriving in Australia. A person’s ability to access housing services is often dependent on being a citizen or permanent resident. This can exclude people who are on temporary visas, some of whom may have been living in our communities for years. To access many services, a person must have an independent income or meet minimum income requirements. This excludes people who are seeking asylum and refugees who do not have work rights and have no or limited access to government income support.
Additionally, state and territory housing services are largely regulated by policies and guidelines that are not found in legislation. These are often difficult to find and change frequently. The relevant law and policy is complex. It is often extremely difficult for people accessing housing services – and at times people delivering them – to know what the housing rights of people seeking asylum and refugees are. This has led to housing being one of the top three concerns among refugees in Australia, with specific challenges including shortage of low-cost housing, competing in the private rental market, limited access to support services, financial hardship, discrimination in the housing market and family size. In turn, all of this contributes to a high risk of homelessness among people seeking asylum and refugees. Accessing strained homelessness services is difficult for anyone. However, these challenges are amplified for people seeking asylum because they are uncertain about their rights and there is a lack of appropriate and culturally sensitive support.
Due to your restricted access, certain areas of your life are impacted. Click on the words which represent the areas you think will be most affected.
Support services become available to assist with the caretaking of your sister. However, the support is only for two hours every fortnight, and no other education or social opportunities are available. Your fear of strangers interacting with your sister is increasing, particularly as she does not speak and you fear that she may not be able to warn you if bad things that are happening to her.
Quote from Aya: “I remember a time before coming to Australia, when a teacher had said something to my sister and she came home upset. She struggled to articulate it but at least she managed to explain to us what had happened so that we understood her. However, my sister is now unable to speak. This created in me a new fear. A fear that if something happened to my sister when we are not around, she will have no way to tell us. There was an incident in the past when my sister was followed by a car and harassed and was terrified. I worry that this kind of incident could happen again, and my sister would have no way of telling me.”
In light of this increasing fear you have two options:
Eligibility for Medicare for a person seeking asylum is dependent on whether or not the particular visa they hold entitles them to work. The conditions around bridging visas held by people who are awaiting a decision on a protection visa application are administered by the federal government. The system is complicated, difficult to navigate, and will differ for each individual.
Where a person is not eligible for Medicare, the decision of who can access hospital, primary healthcare and subsidised ambulance services rests with the state and territory governments. One way in which that decision is often made is on the basis of what type of visa class a person holds, and whether the holder of that visa should be billed at overseas patient rates. In many cases, the bridging visas held by people seeking asylum are considered ‘temporary’ and so the holder will be charged a significantly higher rate for even critical care. This situation fails to take into account the reality that lengthy processing times means a bridging visa holder may be in the community for a significant period of time before their application is decided.
Linked to this, the cumulative effect of not addressing health issues early on means that those denied access may eventually present only at a later stage, often in emergency circumstances, where the costs of treatment will be even higher. States and territories have been more or less successful at realising this and adjusting rights for bridging visa holders accordingly. Nevertheless, the situation is not uniform across Australia and so often remains unfair and inaccessible.
The wait for disability support from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) turns from months into years. You even have an extremely frustrating phone call with the DHHS where the case worker questions whether your sister’s condition is permanent! Someone from DHHS arrives taking down details for a support package and day programming. However, the support never arrives because of the upcoming arrival of the NDIS in the next two or three years, to which they plan to move your sister. The predicted impact is unknown and the timeline for getting support is painfully slow. What do you do?