You have just arrived in Melbourne and you need to find a place to live.
Access to housing is an important issue for all Australians. However, people who are seeking asylum and refugees on temporary visas in particular face significant barriers to finding a home after arriving in Australia. This is because a person’s ability to access housing services often depends on that person being an Australian citizen or permanent resident.
Making it even harder is the fact that state and territory housing services are largely regulated by policies and guidelines that are not legislated by Parliament. These guidelines and policies are often difficult to find online and are frequently changing. The relevant law and policy is complex and difficult to understand. It is often extremely difficult for people accessing housing services – and at times for the people delivering them – to know what are the rights and entitlements of refugees and people seeking asylum.
This has led to housing being one of the top three concerns for 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. All of this in turn contributes to the risk of homelessness for people seeking asylum and refugees. Accessing homelessness services is difficult for anyone. However, these challenges are even greater for people seeking asylum, due to uncertainty about their rights of access and a lack of appropriate and culturally sensitive support.
For more information, see the Liberty Victoria Rights Advocacy Project report “States of Refuge: Access to Health, Housing and Education for People Seeking Asylum and Refugees in Australia”.
It’s been a few weeks, and there are still lots of things you need to do to build your new life here in Australia. Back home, your neighbours were often a source of support, friendship and assistance. You could ask your neighbour here in Australia, but you are nervous because you don’t know how they’ll feel about you, how they’ll react or whether there is a culture here in Australia of helping strangers. What do you do?
Our laws and the system governing immigration are administered by the Commonwealth government, and so they apply uniformly to people seeking asylum and refugees across Australia regardless of where they reside. Whilst these laws are the same everywhere, laws which dictate our access to basic services are set by each state and territory individually, and can often differ substantially between places. The assistance the federal government gives to the states in providing such services to people seeking asylum has decreased over time, making the differences even more stark in some cases.
In addition, there have been a number changes made to what visas many people who are refugees can be granted, and what visa they can hold while they wait for their protection visa application to be assessed. State and territory laws which determine simple day-to-day things, such as whether a school-aged child will be charged at overseas student rates, have not always kept up with the rapid changes to the rules surrounding these visas. This doesn’t so much reflect any desire to block access for anybody in such circumstances. Instead it comes from a failure to recognise that visas which have in the past been regarded as ‘temporary’, and so not qualifying the holder to certain assistance, are increasingly the norm. This is entirely intentional and by design of the federal government.
As a result, some states have been better than others in changing the laws to ensure people seeking asylum and refugees are still able to gain access to a basic level of services necessary to protect them from becoming destitute. The injustice that arises here then is that a person may or may not be able to gain access to healthcare, education or a roof over their head, simply by virtue of where they live.
You complete your law degree, and discover your passion for higher education and learning. You get accepted into a university higher education program (a post-graduate master’s degree), and complete that too. You then get a scholarship to do another higher education program, this time a PhD program (a doctoral degree, which means you are now a Doctor of Philosophy!) and after 5 years, finish that too. Years of hard work and study, what an incredible achievement. But it’s now time to take the next step in your career. What are you going to do?
In 2017, a Centre for Policy Development report found that longer term, less than 50% of skilled and qualified refugees find work in their area of expertise and experience.