Supporting refugees and asylum seekers during a pandemic
With a 2020 theme of ‘Year of Welcome’ Refugee week is a time to embrace the best of what Australia can offer – safety, security, opportunity and acceptance.
This week, 14 - 20 June, Life Without Barriers celebrates Refugee Week, a week that raises awareness about the issues affecting refugees and celebrates the positive contributions made by refugees to Australian society.
The COVID-19 pandemic has been a challenging time for so many Australians. This has been especially true for asylum seekers and refugees, who are amongst the most vulnerable members of our community.
When COVID-19 restrictions came into place earlier this year, Life Without Barriers had an influx of people turning to our National Immigration Support Service (NISS) for help.
“Suddenly we had around 250 people seeking our support every week”, NISS Manager Panos Massouris said.
“That’s hundreds more people compared to a regular week.”
Many are people who have lost work and are not eligible for support payments, such as JobKeeper or JobSeeker, because they are on bridging visas.
Life Without Barriers quickly allocated $150,000 of emergency funding to the NISS programs in New South Wales, South Australia and Victoria in order to support more people seeking assistance and support during the coronavirus pandemic.
The NISS team immediately jumped into action, providing emergency relief vouchers to support people and their families while they were out of work.
Since 27 April, 1344 people have received vouchers from Life Without Barriers, many of whom have children to support.
“When my son lost his job, we had no money and we were so worried, but we got some vouchers from Life Without Barriers and we can now buy basic food to get by,” said a client of the NISS program in Melbourne.
NISS Administration Officer Tracy Mailes was involved in the emergency relief program in South Australia and said she met a woman who appreciated receiving vouchers on behalf of a family of seven.
“She said she was forever grateful. She was blowing me kisses and crying happy tears,” Tracy said.
“The vouchers were life changing for this family. She was able to buy some warm clothes and blankets for her children.”
Tracy was moved by the story of another family with a two-year-old boy with a disability, who were seeking support after his upcoming surgeries were postponed due to COVID-19.
“We were able to offer them some financial relief at this very difficult time, which was really heart-warming,” Tracy said.
Panos shared that he and his team were pleased to play a small part in people’s lives during an emergency.
“People who are seeking asylum are very resilient, but they are also vulnerable when a crisis hits. When you suddenly lose income and you can’t access welfare, it is soul destroying. We saw many people who were worried about how they were going to put food on the table. I’m so proud of my team for jumping into action and giving support to people who needed them,” Panos said.
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