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20 May 2020

Media releases

COVID-19 leaves Australia’s most vulnerable without food on the table

  • 62% of individuals on temporary visas who have sought support from SSI during COVID-19 indicated they have gone without meals
  • 76% could not pay the rent or a mortgage on time
  • 52% have had to forgo their medication and 50% have not accessed the health services they needed
  • 79% had to borrow money from friends and family to pay for essential items
  • Over 600 people in this situation have sought support from SSI
  • SSI has opened up an office two days a week to distribute food packages to individuals and families from asylum seeking backgrounds

Sami* is a middle-aged, tax-paying construction worker who lost his job six weeks ago due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Unlike many others in his situation, Sami has been left without access to a welfare safety net, forced to rely on support from not-for-profit organisations like Settlement Services International (SSI).

In a pulse survey of temporary residents in NSW carried out by SSI, more that 80% of people on temporary visas had lost their job or had their hours reduced in the past eight weeks. This is far higher than the rate of job losses in the wider NSW economy.

People seeking asylum in Australia who are on bridging or temporary visas have been omitted from the federal government’s COVID-19 emergency stimulus payments for people who have lost their jobs.

State governments around the country have stepped into this gap, but in NSW — without access to emergency relief measures or the recently introduced JobKeeper and JobSeeker initiatives — some of NSW’s most vulnerable residents are falling into poverty, unable to pay their rent or bills and put food on the table.

Last week, SSI launched a public donation campaign to keep food on the table for people like Sami.

“I don’t have money to pay for rent, electricity, for the car, everything. I have no money now. All my savings are gone. I went to my boss [to ask for help] and just nothing. I just have no work now. I don’t know how long this will go for,” Sami said.

Sami’s wife is an Australian citizen and has received federal government assistance. Sami said that, although any form of support was good, the increased emergency payment was not enough to pay bills and buy basic food items for their family.

Like hundreds of other NSW residents on a temporary visa, until Sami receives much needed government support, finding money to pay his bills and put food on the table will be a constant struggle.

In the survey of nearly 500 people on temporary visas carried out by SSI over the past eight weeks, 62% indicated they have gone without meals, 76% could not pay the rent or a mortgage on time, and 52% could not buy the medicines they required.

Greg Benson, SSI’s General Manager of Client Services and Operations, said the economic downturn as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic was having a devastating effect on an already vulnerable group, many of whom lived week to week and had no safety net to fall back on.

Mums and dads are coming to us unable to feed and clothe their children over winter. We’re talking about hard-working, contributing members of our society who, up until this pandemic, have made economic and social contributions to NSW,” he said.

Almost two-thirds of the survey respondents had been resident in NSW for two years or more.

“We urge the NSW government to act now to avoid more families falling into a cycle of poverty,” Mr Benson said.

“Regardless of their visa status, newcomers deserve to enjoy a decent standard of living while they’re on our shores. Temporary migrants deserve, at minimum, a package of support that enables them to access healthcare, feed their families and have a roof over their heads.”

You can support vulnerable people seeking asylum affected by COVID-19 by donating here.

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