2020 has been an extremely challenging year for all – but the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic has been particularly felt by refugees and people seeking asylum.

The Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA), co-chaired by Jesuit Social Services and Jesuit Refugee Service Australia, held a webinar on December 15th to review the impact of 2020 on those seeking asylum and to garner hope for 2021 and beyond.

Panellists Nishadh Rego (Policy, Advocacy and Communications Manager at Jesuit Refugee Service Australia), Josh Lourensz (Executive Director at Catholic Social Services Victoria), Sister Brigid Arthur (Project Coordinator at the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project) and Idrissa Dumbuya (advocate and community leader with lived experience) participated in a conversation moderated by Jesuit Social Services CEO Julie Edwards.

The discussion spanned the current status of people seeking asylum both offshore and onshore, with Nishadh explaining that the average length of time people spend in immigration detention in Australia is currently 581 days, the highest average on record.

“People seeking asylum have been excluded from Federal Government supports including Jobseeker and Jobkeeper, and organisations like Jesuit Refugee Service Australia are trying to fill the gap so people can support themselves and their families,” he said, adding that demand for JRS Australia’s services have increased by 255 per cent since March.

Adding to the impact of the pandemic has been concerning measures for people seeking asylum in the recent Federal Budget, including a cut of 5,000 to the annual humanitarian intake and further cuts to Status Resolution Support Services payment (SRSS).

Sister Brigid said the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project has been supporting people seeking asylum to maintain their housing and utilities payments during the pandemic, at a cost of about $120,000 a month, which is not sustainable moving forward.

Idrissa added that “the majority of asylum seekers cannot live a dignified life. People seeking asylum are going through two pandemics – COVID-19 as well as mental health and homelessness.”

Josh said that COVID-19 has compounded issues that are chronic and systemic and that remain prevalent in Australia.

“Our solution needs to be focused on advocacy as well as meeting people’s immediate needs,” he said.

Despite the challenges discussed by panellists, the webinar provided a sense of hope that all members of the community can mobilise and take action to create the change we want to see for people seeking asylum in the future.

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