The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) supports the No Child Left Behind campaign by the Refugee Council of Australia and calls on the Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the Minister for Families and Social Services Anne Ruston, to ensure that all people, especially the most vulnerable in Australia, are protected from the health and economic impacts of COVID-19.
As the Australian economy plunged into its “deepest economic downturn” since the Great Depression, many people are out of work and enduring financial hardship. This is particularly disheartening for asylum seekers and refugees who have been ‘stood down’ from employment due to lockdown and social isolation measures and have restricted access to the JobSeeker and JobKeeper payment schemes.
These schemes are playing an important role in supporting people financially through this pandemic, but they are not available to everyone who needs them. Without a stable income and a safety net, these families face the risk of becoming homeless and destitute in this crisis.
A recent report from the Refugee Council of Australia found that refugees and asylum seekers are particularly vulnerable because many are employed in low-income and insecure jobs. Unemployment rates among bridging, safe haven enterprise, and temporary protection visa holders are set to more than double to 42%. Among those who are able to remain employed, 92% may be earning less than the minimum wage. Homelessness is projected to rise by 12%. The flow-on effects for children must be considered.
Bearing the consequences of the COVID-19 crisis, children are left behind as their opportunity to learn diminishes. Children need a safe, supportive and engaging environment to learn within, and when parents struggle, children struggle at school.
With around 16,000 children in families seeking protection in Australia, we must come together as a community to support these marginalised children to regain their learning and education. Our community, schools, universities and childcare centres stand ready to support the children and families seeking asylum, but we need the Federal Government to step up.
It is evident that the ramifications of COVID-19 do not discriminate, and neither should access to a safety net or assistance scheme during this time. We should not leave anyone behind and must ensure that everyone in the community, especially children and families, have the support they need to get through this crisis.
PHAA hopes that the Australian Federal Government will extend support to empower children and their families seeking asylum so they can once again rebuild their lives with dignity and look forward to a future that is free of discrimination and filled with hope.
Dr Jaya A. R. Dantas is the Convenor of PHAA’s International Health Special Interest Group. She is also Dean International in the Faculty of Health Sciences and Professor in the School of Public Health at Curtin University where she leads a programme of research in refugee and migrant health. Her central research interests focus on the consequences of post-conflict adversity on women and youth; resilience among refugee and migrant populations, the social determinants of health, and participatory research.