Emergency Appeal to keep 1150 people seeking asylum safe

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$400,000
100% Funded
$400,000 Raised
Days to Go
4325 Donors

ASRC's legal team

2 November update: In May a seemingly impossible deadline was announced, any person seeking asylum who arrived by sea would need to apply for protection by 1 October or permanently lose their right to apply. Over the coming months our new legal staff, funded through over 5000 donations to the appeal, worked tirelessly to ensure critical legal care was afforded to all those who needed it – from consultations with interpreters to evening and weekend legal clinics.

By the 1 October deadline ASRC had assisted 891 people to lodge applications for protection.

The team of five lawyers and a para-legal coordinator doubled the ASRC’s capacity to lodge applications for protection for each person on their legal wait list. They managed the submission of 90 applications for protection every month and supervised more than 250 legal volunteers.

Thanks to your generous donation, the ASRC were able to ensure all 891 people met the 1 October deadline. Thank you.

17 March update: Meet Laura, Michaela and Shessy the first three of six amazing new additions to our Human Rights Legal team, entirely funded from your generous donation to #KeepThemSafe. 

Laura and Michaela and Sheesy

Lawyers, Laura and Michaela started work this Tuesday (14 March) and are focused on making sure each of the 1150 people on our legal waiting list receive urgent legal assistance to prepare their refugee application.

Shessy, our dedicated Fast Track Para-legal Coordinator has already coordinated three emergency weekend legal clinics for people who were about to be cut off from income support, Medicare and the right to work. Her role was made possible by the funds you gave beyond our initial target.

Over one weekend our team worked 26 hours to lodge 20 applications! And in the past three weeks, 30 people seeking asylum can now have peace-of-mind and hope that their refugee application now has the best possible chance of offering them protection and safety.

Your response to #KeepThemSafe surpassed even our wildest expectations. And as we speak, three more lawyers are being recruited because of you – thank you!

7 March update:  the ASRC are humbled and grateful for the huge response from our community who in five days, have helped us reach our target of $400,000 to fund five human rights lawyers in order to urgently provide legal support to 1150 people seeking asylum to #KeepThemSafe!

The ASRC are however still taking much needed donations towards the #KeepThemSafe campaign to fund the additional costs associated with supporting 1150 to lodge their refugee applications.

All additional funds raised as part of #KeepThemSafe will:

1. Fund a dedicated Para-legal Coordinator to support a new emergency Sunday legal clinics for people seeking asylum who have less than 14 days to apply, or be at risk of losing their right to work, Medicare and income support.

2. Pay the mandatory $35 fee for all refugee applications for up to 850 people who can’t afford this.

3. Cover the cost of training and supporting over 100 new legal volunteers required to respond to this crisis and assist more people seeking asylum quickly.

4. Pay for onsite interpreters for when we work with survivors of torture, and who need face-to-face interpreters to feel safe in order to disclose their story so we can prepare their application.

5. Pay for translators to translate critical legal documents that are vital to proving people’s refugee claim, and give them the best chance of winning their case.


Last week the Turnbull government launched an unprecedented attack around 12,000 people seeking asylum who arrived by sea to Australia between August 2012 and December 2013. After waiting over four years to be invited to apply for asylum, these people have received letters from the government with as little as 30 days to lodge their refugee application.

It gets worse. If people don’t lodge their application in time, the government has threatened to take away their right to apply for asylum in Australia.

Without support to complete a 60-page legal application within 30 days, the government has threatened to:

  1. Permanently deny their right to apply for asylum in Australia
  2. Cut off all income support leaving people totally destitute
  3. Not renew their Bridging Visa when it expires, meaning people lose access to Medicare and their right to work

Right now, the ASRC have 40 people who we have to assist to lodge their application for asylum within the next 14 days or they’ll be at risk of homelessness. 

But this is just the tip of the iceberg, the ASRC have 1150 people on our legal waiting list who urgently need the legal support.

At a time where 90% of all funding for legal assistance has been cut by the government, people seeking asylum are now forced to complete an almost impossible task – a complex legal application with 116 questions all in English. And now the government is pressuring people to complete their applications without adequate access to critical legal support within as little as 30 days.

The ASRC has launched an Emergency Appeal to raise $400,000 in the next 14 days to urgently hire five additional human rights lawyers in Victoria so that we can respond to this unprecedented demand for our legal services.

There are 1150 lives at risk of being returned to harm, please help us #KeepThemSafe right now.

Update: the ASRC are humbled and grateful for the huge response from our community who in five days, have helped us reach our target of $400,000 to fund five human rights lawyers in order to urgently provide legal support to 1150 people seeking asylum to #KeepThemSafe!

The ASRC are however still taking much need donations towards the #KeepThemSafe campaign to fund the additional costs associated with supporting 1150 to lodge their refugee applications.

All additional funds raised as part of #KeepThemSafe will:

  1. Fund a dedicated Para-legal Coordinator to support a new emergency Sunday legal clinics for people seeking asylum who have less than 14 days to apply, or be at risk of losing their right to work, Medicare and income support.
  2. Pay the mandatory $35 fee for all refugee applications for up to 850 people who can’t afford this.
  3. Cover the cost of training and supporting over 100 new legal volunteers required to respond to this crisis and assist more people seeking asylum quickly.
  4. Pay for onsite interpreters for when we work with survivors of torture, and who need face-to-face interpreters to feel safe in order to disclose their story so we can prepare their application.
  5. Pay for translators to translate critical legal documents that are vital to proving people’s refugee claim, and give them the best chance of winning their case.

Donate.

How your donation right now can #KeepThemSafe:

  • $1,538.50 covers the wage for a lawyer to complete four applications for asylum each week.
  • $384.60 will cover the wage for a lawyer to complete one application for asylum.
  • If two people donate $192.30, this will give one person the legal support to lodge their application for asylum.
  • $82 provides two critical hours of legal support.
  • $41 provides one hour of legal support.

Take action.

The Turnbull Government needs to stop sending threatening letters and instead give people a fair chance at seeking safety in our community. Join us in sending a clear message to the Turnbull Government now.

Later this month we will hand-deliver this letter in Canberra – along with messages from you and thousands of others – to Malcolm Turnbull and the Government.

Together we will hold our leaders to account and let them know that our community wants a fair process for people seeking asylum, that treats them with dignity and respect.

Take action now. 

Volunteer

If you are interested in assisting through volunteering please contact volunteer_admin@asrc.org.au

What is happening?

The Turnbull Government is heightening fear and confusion among people seeking asylum living in our community, sending out hundreds of letters threatening to cancel bridging visas, deny the right to lodge asylum claims, and cut people off critical support payments.

The letters, sent by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection starting last week, warn people they have only weeks to lodge their asylum claims or risk being permanently denied the right to claim asylum in Australia.

Who is affected?

The letters are being sent to people across the community, many of whom are already involved in legal processes to claim asylum but who have been unable to yet lodge their applications due to massive backlog in the system, time frames that are unrealistic, and constraints on the capacity of underfunded legal services struggling to meet already surging demand.

The letters are going out to the more than 12,000 people who have been waiting to lodge their asylum claims under the government’s so-called “Fast Track” legal process. This process is more complex, with short time frames and arbitrary deadlines, resulting in a far higher rate of asylum claims being rejected than was previously the case.

ASRC is already working with more than 1000 people who will be affected by this decision, while there are 10,000 more across Victoria. Australia-wide there are 24,500 people seeking asylum who may be affected by the government’s decision.

What is the impact?

The pressure to lodge claims means that people may do so without having the opportunity to get proper advice from a lawyer.

Specialist legal services working with people seeking asylum are bracing for an expected 300 per cent increase in the legal services required to meet the needs of people seeking urgent support and advice.

Legal and community services are already seeing people who have been cut off from social support payments within days of receiving one of these letters from the Department.

Why is this happening?

The strain on specialist refugee legal services is already being felt after the government cut funding for legal assistance in the 2014 budget. Government funded legal supports for refugees and people seeking asylum were slashed by 90 per cent.

The ASRC does not nor will ever take Federal Government funding but we believe it is vital that the federal government fund the specialist provision of free legal services to people seeking asylum.

The system cannot function without a properly funded community legal sector and the scale of need and increasing demand on legal services means people seeking asylum are denied natural justice and fairness before the law. This current crisis has been created by the federal government’s refusal to adopt a fair and transparent refugee determination process.

What can you do?

We need more specialist lawyers who are dedicated to helping people with their Fast Track applications.

This is what your donation can do right now to#KeepThemSafe:

  • $1,538.50 covers the wage for a lawyer to complete four applications for asylum each week.
  • $384.60 will cover the wage for a lawyer to complete one application for asylum.
  • If two people donate $192.30, this will give one person the legal support to lodge their application for asylum.
  • $82 provides two critical hours of legal support.
  • $41 provides one hour of legal support.

There’s only one chance to get this right. Legal assistance to lodge this claim can be what gets someone across the line to #KeepThemSafe

More than this, we need to our Government to create a fair process for people seeking asylum and restored funding for legal support so that people have a fair chance of rebuilding their lives in peace in our community.

In addition to a donation, you can:

Share our campaign on social media

Attend a #RightTrack Community Action Workshop

Get involved with the #RightTrack campaign

17 March update: Meet Laura, Michaela and Shessy the first three of six amazing new additions to our Human Rights Legal team, entirely funded from your generous donation to #KeepThemSafe.

Laura and Michaela and Sheesy

Lawyers, Laura and Michaela started work this Tuesday and are focused on making sure each of the 1150 people on our legal waiting list receive urgent legal assistance to prepare their refugee application.

Shessy, our dedicated Fast Track Para-legal Coordinator has already coordinated three emergency weekend legal clinics for people who were about to be cut off from income support, Medicare and the right to work. Her role was made possible by the funds you gave beyond our initial target.

Over one weekend our team worked 26 hours to lodge 20 applications! And in the past three weeks, 30 people seeking asylum can now have peace-of-mind and hope that their refugee application now has the best possible chance of offering them protection and safety.

Your response to #KeepThemSafe surpassed even our wildest expectations. And as we speak, three more lawyers are being recruited because of you – thank you!

7 March update: we have just recruited two new lawyers into the legal team, Michaela and Laura who will both join the ASRC on the 14 March!

They have both been long-term volunteers within our legal program and will be able to immediately start working with clients to prepare their applications.


The ASRC will fund 5 lawyers who each week, will prepare an application for asylum for 20 families or individuals seeking asylum. This dedicated legal task force will be providing that assistance for free.

Each application for asylum involves a 60 page document with 116 questions in English. It requires the applicant to document the last 30 years of their life, regarding where they have lived, worked and studied and must include a detailed explanation of why they are a refugee and why it is not safe for them, or their family to return.

This is complex application that without legal support, is almost impossible to complete accurately. The accuracy of a person’s application is the most important factor in giving them the best chance of being found to be a refugee.

Case Study 1 – Fast Track processing

Muhamad arrived in Australia by boat on 15 August 2012 from Pakistan. Muhamed has been waiting almost four years to apply for protection. During the waiting period he has struggled to find work: although he worked in Information Technology in Pakistan, his qualifications are not recognised in Australia and he has been unable to work. He has therefore been forced to rely on government support payments.

In January 2016 he was invited to apply for a Temporary Protection Visa (3 year visa) or a Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (5 year visa). He then had to wait 9 months to access free legal assistance from a community legal centre as he is not eligible for government funded legal assistance, and he could not afford a private lawyer.

Muhamed had to wait a further 6 months from the time he lodged his application to receive his decision from the Department. He was refused a protection visa, as although it was accepted that Muhamed would be likely seriously harmed in his home town of Quetta because of his Hazara ethnicity, the new definition of a ‘refugee’ meant that Muhamed had to show that he would face this harm in all areas in Pakistan.  Accordingly a decision was made that Muhamed could return to another area in Pakistan despite the fact that this would continue to be dangerous for him.  Muhamed does not understand the legal test for relocation and cannot explain why Hazara people face discrimination all throughout Pakistan.

Muhamed is living in the community and reliant upon support from organisations like ASRC. He does not know what the future holds but is fearful that he will be returned to Pakistan.

Case Study 2 – Lack of access to legal and late disclosure of information

Jeyanais a Tamil woman from Sri Lanka and she is 22 years old. She was imprisoned during a general round-up by authorities in Sri Lanka during a political protest because of her ethnicity. She was detained for seven days during which time she was sexually assaulted and raped by the army. Jeyana did not report this to the authorities in Sri Lanka because it was the authorities who had assaulted her. Nor did she disclose this to her husband because of the deep shame she felt as a result of societal stigmas about rape victims. Jeyana is seeking asylum in Australia.

Jeyana receives a reminder letter from the Department informing her she needs to apply for protection within 30 days or risk having her Bridging visa cancelled, being cut off from social supports and permanently lose the right to apply for asylum in Australia.

She is unable to afford legal assistance. She cannot access free services in Victoria in the short timeframe set out in the letter due to the overwhelming demand on community lawyers.  The waiting list is many months long. In desperation due to the threatening letter she approaches her male friend who helps her to apply for her Temporary Protection Visa as he is able to speak and read in English well.

She does not disclose the sexual assault or abuse by the army in her application for protection because of her shame and because she does not feel comfortable speaking with a man about her rape. Her application was refused by the Department due to lack of detail about the harm she fears. Through working with her counsellor and after the shock of the refusal letter, Jeyana discloses to her counsellor about the rape and abuse.

Jeyana writes a letter to the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA) stating that she had been raped and wants an interview with the IAA so she can explain her fears of sexual abuse as a Tamil woman if she were forced to return to Sri Lanka. The IAA declines her request for an interview, and states that it would not accept her evidence because it was new information which could not be considered unless in exceptional circumstances.  The IAA states that Jeyana’s circumstances do not amount to ‘exceptional circumstances’. This is despite the fact that late disclosure of sexual assault is very common, particularly in cultures where there is deep shame associated with rape.

If Jeyana had been able to access legal representation through ASRC, ASRC would have provided her with a female lawyer and female interpreter to ensure she felt comfortable to tell her story.  ASRC provides a Women’s Clinic service with expertise in assisting women including women who have suffered sexual assault.  It is the only service of its kind in Australia.  Jeyana would have been informed of the restrictive practices of the IAA and it would have been explained that it is difficult to present new information at the IAA.  Furthermore, because of Jeyana’s vulnerability and the difficulty she experiences in recounting her experiences of rape and sexual assault, ASRC would have had a female lawyer represent her at her interview with the Department.  Jeyana would have been able to tell her story safely with the support of a specialised women’s service, the support she needed.

Case Study 3 – The short timeframes in fast track lead to unfair legal outcomes

Reza is from Iran. He participated in the 2009 demonstrations against the Iranian regime. He was arrested at one of the demonstrations and was severely beaten around his head. After about a month of severe mistreatment he was released and told that he could “expect a visit” from the Iranian authorities. The trauma of the beating and mistreatment affected Reza’s memory.  He became anxious and disoriented. After his release Reza fled Iran, arrived in Australia and, after waiting for four years, was invited to apply for protection.

Reza is unable to access any legal advice before submitting his application as he cannot afford a lawyer and the community legal services available cannot see him in time due to high demand. He does not have a lawyer at his Department interview and the interpreter speaks Dari, not Persian which is his language. He is confused, and scared to say that he does not understand the interpreter.  He does not know what is relevant and has difficulties with his memory because of his trauma and stress.

Reza is refused protection by the Department because he could not remember certain dates of his detention and because he did not know to include certain details of his political activity. After his refusal, Reza’s family sends him a copy of a summons for his arrest which the Iranian authorities had delivered to their house months earlier.  They had not given it to him because they were worried for his mental health and did not want to cause him more stress.

Reza misses his 21 day deadline to provide written submissions to the IAA because he cannot read or write in English and because the law is too complex for him to understand.   He is unable to obtain legal assistance in the 21 day timeframe. The IAA refuses his case a few days later without considering the summons and without meeting Reza or allowing Reza any opportunity to explain his situation and his fears of returning to Iran.

Reza comes in to the ASRC to see the Triage service.  He is distressed and confused about what has happened.  It becomes apparent to the Triage Lawyer that Reza needs support from ASRC’s counselling service and someone is called immediately to speak with Reza and assess his mental health needs.  Once Reza feels safe, ASRC explains his legal situation to him with the assistance of a Persian interpreter.  ASRC looks at Reza’s case and finds legal mistakes in the IAA decision.  ASRC finds Reza a pro bono barrister to represent Reza at the Federal Circuit Court. The judge finds that the IAA did not make their decision according to law and makes orders that Reza’s case be returned to the IAA for a new decision to be made.

The ASRC is expanding the capacity of its legal in response to the crisis and is launching an emergency campaign to fund new dedicated fast track lawyers to meet the increased community need.

Case Study 4 – Importance of lawyers

Mahmood, Yasmine and their three children are a stateless Rohingya family from Burma. Rohingya people in Burma are beaten, denied their basic rights and killed by the Burmese military. The United Nations confirms that 1000 Rohingya people have been killed by the Burmese military in a recent crackdown in Rakhine State in Burma.

Mahmood and Yasmine arrive in Australia in 2013. They and their children were not permitted to attend school or work in Burma because they are not recognized as Burmese citizens.  They do not read or write in any language and only speak Rohingya. They have no identity documents as they are stateless and not eligible for birth certificates or any other identity document.

Upon arrival in Australia, they ask for protection. After approximately 3 years of waiting and uncertainty, they are allowed to lodge their applications for protection. They attend a legal workshop at ASRC where the legal process, visa options and other key matters are explained to them with the assistance of a Rohingya interpreter. Mahmood, Yasmine and the children then attend an ASRC legal clinic where they are assisted to prepare and finalise their visa application forms and their statements of claims which in total amount to hundreds of pages of information.

Shortly after their applications are lodged, the Department makes a request under section 91W of the Migration Act that the family provide identity documentation even though it is well known that stateless Rohingya people are denied identity documents. The letter received from the Department is threatening and warns the family that their applications may be refused if they do not provide the documents.  Mahmood and Yasmine are frightened and confused.

They meet with a lawyer from ASRC who assists them to respond to the letter from the Department by preparing another statutory declaration with the assistance of a Rohingya interpreter to outline in detail why stateless people from Burma do not have identity documents. On advice received from ASRC, Mahmood and Yasmine provide detailed evidence about their home village in Burma to establish their identities in the absence of documents. ASRC also writes a legal submission to the Department in support of the family’s evidence.

The Department accepts this evidence and progresses the family’s applications to the next step in the visa process.