Fears for vulnerable people affected by SRSS changes

Medical professionals providing direct care to clients of Cabrini’s Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub have expressed concern about the impact Federal Government’s cuts to payments for refugees and asylum seekers.

Speaking about the distress and anxiety among asylum seekers and refugees over these new developments, medical director of specialist mental health services at Cabrini’s Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub Dr Tram Nguyen says the team’s sense is that everyone is vulnerable. “We’re seeing a lot more people just walking into our service in a heightened state of distress, at times thinking that suicide is a way out of the situation,” she said. “So we’re crisis-managing.”

Last year the government announced an end to Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) for several thousand asylum seekers on bridging visas, to come into effect in 2018. SRSS provides payment roughly equivalent to 89 per cent of Newstart – about $35 a day – as well as case-management support and access to trauma and torture counselling services.

Separately a group of 190 refugees from among the hundreds transferred here for medical care from Manus Island and Nauru have been suddenly moved to a six-month bridging visa, stripped of income support and evicted from community detention housing. They have been told they must support themselves, or go back.

Dr Nguyen estimates that there are 5000 people in Melbourne alone on SRSS, plus a large portion of the Let Them Stay group. The waiting list for specialist mental health services has increased from weeks to months, and Dr Nguyen expects and increase in asylum seekers who are acutely distressed presenting to hospital emergency departments for mental health help.

“If this is cut for people, with things like food insecurity, families could become homeless and destitute,” she said. “We are expecting an increase in depression, self-harm and suicidality, but also people who are just unable to afford their healthcare. We’ll try and pick up as much as possible but we think we will be overwhelmed by referrals.”

People on SRSS payments are required to become job-ready. Yet “they have had limited access to education resources, haven’t had work rights or a work history in Australia. They’re competing with the rest of the Australian people wanting to enter the workforce,” Dr Nguyen said.

Cabrini’s Asylum Seeker & Refugee Health Hub provides access to a range of health services for people seeking asylum and newly arrived refugees. The centre has a formal partnership with St Vincent’s Hospital Melbourne (providing financial support for pathology, medical imaging and a project officer, as well as partnerships with other asylum seeker agencies for referrals and client support. The centre assists with referrals to community health and specialist services (e.g. dental, optometry, allied health, infectious diseases and paediatrics).

The Cabrini Asylum Seeker and Refugee Health Hub relies on a mix of employed and pro bono staff to provide quality primary and specialist healthcare.

Cabrini is committed to continuing to reach out with compassion to asylum seekers and refugees, whom we consider to be a most vulnerable group of people. To find out more, visit https://www.cabrini.com.au/patients-and-families/services/directory/asylum-seeker-and-refugee-health-hub

To make a donation visit https://cabrinifoundation.com.au/