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Refugees at risk as settlement services fight for funds

Refugees could be left vulnerable with no dedicated funding for settlement services in the federal budget as the humanitarian intake remains stagnant.

ZAKI HAIDARI PORTRAIT Amnesty's Zaki Haidari says Labor promised to do more to increase refugee and humanitarian places.
May 11, 2023
By Farid Farid
11 May 2023

Refugee advocates have criticised the exclusion of settlement service workers from a $4 billion boost to the community sector.

Amnesty International has also questioned the unchanged humanitarian intake cap outlined in the federal budget.

“Labor promised to do more to increase refugee and humanitarian places that have fallen to near record lows,” Amnesty campaigner Zaki Haidari said.

“It is devastating for many communities to see no change in this budget, but with millions more allocated to detain refugees offshore.”

Settlement sector workers were also excluded from a $4 billion funding boost to community services.

The federal government argues the increased funding brings affected workers in line with the wage price index, which measures changes in the price of labour.

But peak bodies such as Settlement Services International, which supports about 50,000 migrants, said refugees would be hard hit in the long run.

“How can the government expect settlement service organisations to serve more people for longer while wages are cut in real terms?” Violet Roumeliotis said.

Settlement Council of Australia chief executive Sandra Elhelw-Wright said workers and providers confronted with rising costs were being pushed to breaking point.

She warned this could force vulnerable migrants and refugees to fend for themselves.

Greens senator Nick McKim said the budget lacked humanity and compassion, locking in legacy coalition policies rather than delivering Labor’s election promises.

“It locks in billions of dollars for offshore detention, does not raise the humanitarian intake and does not acknowledge the dire humanitarian crisis Australia helped to create in Afghanistan,” he said.

“It fails to deliver Labor’s commitments to restore migrant settlement services that were slashed. 

“It does not raise the community-sponsored refugee program and it does not create the independent refugee tribunal.”

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said the budget maintained an “unfair, unjust and unequal” system.

The centre said Commonwealth support for asylum seeker services had been slashed since 2016, driving people on bridging visas to charity.

Funding reached $300 million in 2015/16, with the Albanese government allocating $37 million next year.

The income support paid to program recipients is a portion (up to 89 per cent) of allowances paid to Australian residents and citizens.

The Refugee Council of Australia and the centre criticised Australia’s detention regime.

The council said onshore detention and compliance would cost more than $1.365 billion next year, while the offshore detention of about 30 people in Nauru would cost taxpayers $1.5 billion across the next four years. 

Both groups welcomed $732.5 million across five years to provide a pathway to permanent residency for people on temporary protection and safe haven visas.

The sector praised the announcement of $136 million across four years to support the mental health of asylum seekers and refugees with experiences of torture and trauma.

Other measures affecting refugees included $10 million across four years to expand family violence protections to temporary visa holders and $9.1 million to improve employment outcomes for refugees and migrants.

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