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Detention in Australia

by
12 June 2015

AUSTRALIA has attracted its fair share of international media outrage over its asylum policies and practice. Nevertheless, the country does operate a Community Detention programme, providing a community-based alternative to detention.

Through the programme, asylum-seekers who are technically in immigration detention are placed in houses run by charities contracted by the Department of Immigration, and live embedded in various communities.

"It's another good alternative to immigration detention, but it's something that the Department is moving away from, and there are less available community detention properties," the manager of the Sanctuary programme, Jason Perdriau, says.

In the state of Victoria, Baptcare - the welfare arm of the Baptist Union of Victoria - decided to provide its own community-based support to asylum-seekers who would otherwise be left destitute, "as an expression of mission," Mr Perdriau says.

In 2008, an old nursing home in Brunswick, a northern suburb of Melbourne, was bought and converted to house 28 male asylum-seekers who would otherwise be destitute. "We've been operating that as a transitional supported-accommodation facility since then, for asylum-seekers who were were previously homeless."

In 2012, Baptcare converted a second property as part of the Sanctuary programme, also a former nursing home, in the suburb of Preston, which now houses 44 male asylum-seekers and one family (in a three-bed family unit).

 

THE charity's main clients are asylum-seekers who are not permitted to work, and are not eligible for any government support - including those applying for a judicial review, or for ministerial intervention - after an initial refusal of their application.

Just over 50 per cent of rooms at each site are allocated to asylum-seekers who are without any source of income, the rest to those who receive a government income in the primary stage of their asylum claim.

Although funded places help to subsidise those without an income, many funded asylum-seekers are also in need because they receive a low-level of government support. "It's currently 89 per cent of what single people receive on benefits; so many struggle to pay for rent and food, etc. But most people we take with an income also have some pretty serious support needs, and that is the reason why we take them," Mr Perdriau says.

Each site has a tenancy worker, who looks after the property and health and safety. There are also case workers, besides a pastoral care worker on site. At each property there is a foodbank that all residents can access; and, for those with no income, monthly supermarket food vouchers are provided, as well as public transport top-ups.

A high level of support is available from the on-site case-workers, who seek to help each resident to get a fair decision on his or her asylum claim. "With primary clients, the case worker will help to establish an individual case plan designed to meet their needs and goals.

"The case worker will work with them on health, legal, and educational issues, and on being part of the community, and being able to access services outside, that are important to the client. They will have set times to sit and work on those issues with them."

 

RESIDENTS with government support are being helped by organisations, such as the Red Cross, that have government contracts to work with people in the primary stages of their claim. For these residents, Sanctuary's case-workers are available to provide secondary incidental case-work and referrals.

"We've made a decision not to go for those government contracts because of the conditions and the model of care that needs to be employed in order to get those contracts.

"There's a large number of people in the community who aren't able to access those services, and those contracts mean that clients need to be cut off, often at the point when they most need assistance: so, when somebody gets that negative decision and is still seeking a review."

The weakness in Baptcare's Sanctuary model, therefore, Mr Perdriau says, is that funding is always an issue. Their current programme costs around $A1,000,000 per year [CHK], and funds come largely from trusts and fund-raising events.

Baptcare, however, is working with churches in the Melbourne area on a new initiative, Houses of Hope, through which it hopes to increase provision without the need for capital investment by focusing on expansion through partnerships, and by co-ordinating community support.

"I'm meeting with churches currently. We're trying to identify houses that churches can use for mission purposes as supported housing for asylum seekers." While it is hoped that churches, or congregation members, will provide suitable properties, Baptcare will oversee utility and property management, and one of two new partner agencies - Lentara Uniting Care and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (the largest asylum-seeker advocacy, aid, and health organisation in Australia) - will provide case management.

Churches in Melbourne are also providing groceries for the foodbanks, and will soon be involved in a new initiative to provide volunteers to assist residents with community integration, English language, and work-experience placements.

"Baptist Care Australia, the umbrella body for all Baptist care organisations, has a very strong asylum policy, and Baptist Care South Australia has an asylum-seeker support programme," Mr Perdriau says. As yet, however, the holistic model of community-based asylum support developed by Baptcare in Victoria has yet to be replicated by any of the other Baptist care organisations.

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