Delegation of Councillors representing the Mayoral Taskforce in Canberra. Image provided by and used with the permission of the City of Greater Dandenong

A human advocacy group calls on federal support for those who’ve came to the land down under.

Right now, Australia is keeping close to 100,000 people trapped in limbo. Whether on or off Australian shores, they are cut off from aid and support which they desperately need due to a system designed to fail them. For some, it has been like this for close to a decade. 

Since 2018, the Mayoral Taskforce who created Back Your Neighbour Campaign, have been among the many that have been advocating on behalf of refugees, trying to change a broken system.

Greater Dandenong Community Advocacy Officer Marek Krol said: “those who arrived by boat to Australia, had at times no work rights, some had/some didn’t have access to Medicare, and almost all had no option to apply for permanent residency.”

For those even less fortunate, they are locked away in offshore detention facilities, whose conditions rivalled those from which they fled. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International both said that refugees in Nauru suffered “severe abuse, inhumane treatment and neglect”.

For years, humanitarian advocacy groups and many others have been calling on the Australian Government to change its practices as to how it treats refugees. Formed in 2018, The Local Government Mayoral Taskforce Supporting People Seeking Asylum is one such group.

According to the group, “Since Greater Dandenong had, at the time, over 2,000 asylum seekers living in its community, Council was well aware of the issues facing this cohort such as homelessness, poverty, unaddressed physical and mental health issues.”

As part of their effort to change the system and conditions asylum seekers have found themselves in, the taskforce founded the Back Your Neighbour Campaign, which advocates for the changes they propose. These include changing how asylum seekers are processed, replacing temporary visas with permanent ones, to give them access to crucial resources like Medicare and to increase funding to support them in helping settle into community life in Australia.

Back Your Neighbour Campaign manager Daniel Scoullar said that: “The response from local councils around Australia has been very strong. New councils are joining the Campaign all the time.”

As of 2022, the taskforce and campaign are made up of a coalition of 39 councils spread across Victoria, New South Wales, and Tasmania.

The mayoral taskforce and campaign have been active in pursuing this change. Before the announcement of the March 29federal budget, the mayoral taskforce and campaign called on the Federal Government to include funding to support the necessary change. They stated “urgent intervention” was needed for the “100,000 people who are living in the Australian community without the basic support and safety they need to build their lives”.

Medicare, education, income and mental health support are things most Australians have access too. But refugees, who are amongst some of the most vulnerable in our community, cannot access them. 

For some refugees, they have been trapped in this system for close to 10 years. It’s worse when you consider the treatment of asylum seekers in the offshore detention facilities. A 2017 senate inquiry revealed allegations of abuse and neglect towards those being detained, as well as worrying levels of deteriorating mental health. This is due to the poor living conditions and the uncertainty of what the future holds.

The Metropolitan Migrant Resource Centre has been helping settle migrants and refugees for 25 years. Amanda Gillet, a manager at the Perth centre said: “MMRC is particularly concerned about the situation of asylum seekers who are detained for indefinite periods in inhumane conditions. Asylum seekers should be processed as quickly as possible and released into the community. Basically, Australia should follow the refugee convention to which it is a signatory.”

The refugee convention is part of the United Nations Charger of Human Rights, which Australia was instrumental in creating. Article 14 states: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution.”

Despite the calls for change, when the federal budget was unveiled it became clear that Government had failed refugees and asylum seekers. While there was funding allocated towards supporting them, the support rings hollow as all the money is being directed into the pre-existing, broken system. 

Krol said that the Government is not doing enough: “Billions of dollars are being wasted, rather than being spent on settlement services designed to support people seeking asylum.”

The Refugee Council of Australia has made similar criticisms: “Actual spending for offshore processing in 2021-22 will be $958 million, a blowout of $146 million on the funds allocated in last year’s Budget.”

“People can support the campaign by visiting and signing the petition or sending an email to their local MPs,” Scoullar said.

This is in conjunction with the mayoral taskforce, which according to Krol is planning to “place further pressure on the major parties to adopt positive policies towards people seeking asylum and refugees by mobilising community support via social media and our petition.”

Members of the mayoral taskforce have met with both parties to learn how each would treat asylum seekers and refugees, should they come into power at the next election.

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