ACT housing shortage may see refugees on the street
Asylum seekers who have been security cleared and released from detention while they wait for their refugee status to be determined are granted up to six weeks of supported housing but often face a wait of several months before they know if they will be allowed to stay in Australia.
National Training Group chief executive Chris Zorzo, who recently organised English lessons for Canberra-based asylum seekers who were looking for work, said they faced a near impossible task finding rental properties.
”How do you go into the private rental market when you don’t have a rental history in Australia and most [asylum seekers] don’t have jobs?” he said.
A spokesman for the Minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen, said that the six weeks supported accommodation was provided so asylum seekers could establish themselves initially, and they were then expected to find housing in the private rental market.
The spokesman said the Asylum Seekers Assistance Scheme could provide help with housing to asylum seekers deemed ”vulnerable”, which was assessed on a case-by-case basis, and he refused to comment on what qualities an asylum seeker would need to demonstrate to be considered for the extra assistance.
The federal government announced last year that some asylum seekers who had passed security clearances would be released into the community in an attempt to ease overcrowding in detention centres. Since the announcement in November 2011, 2350 bridging visas have been granted to irregular maritime arrivals, but no statistics were available on where in Australia those asylum seekers were based.
Kathy Ragless, the director of Companion House, a community organisation which assists people in need, said she welcomed the government’s move to relocate asylum seekers into the community, as the longer they stayed in detention the more serious the likely negative impact on their mental health.
But she agreed more needed to be done to ensure they could access affordable housing, particularly in Canberra where stocks of cheap rental properties were low, describing asylum seekers’ accommodation options as ”pretty limited and pretty dire”.
”The major problem that no-one wants to take responsibility for is housing, neither [the federal nor ACT governments] are addressing that in a meaningful way,” she said.
Ms Ragless said Canberrans were keen to welcome asylum seekers, but as the city had less affordable housing than Melbourne or Sydney, one solution would to be to place those coming out of detention centres elsewhere. ”But that would be a shame, because this is a good community for them,” she said.
Ms Ragless acknowledged that the government faced a difficult task in housing asylum seekers, but said it was only a matter of time before they found themselves with no place to go, with most now ending up in group or share housing. ”We’re a rich community and it’s very hard to find space for the disadvantaged,” she said.
Asylum seekers in detention are assessed for bridging visas on a case by case basis, with priority given to those who have been detained the longest and have co-operated with efforts to establish their identity.