In August 2015, with initial funding from Community Benefit SA, the Refugee Advocacy Service of South Australia Inc (RASSA) launched its Migration Assistance Project. The Project provides a pro bono service to assist people seeking asylum who are resident in South Australia and are being processed under the “fast track” to apply for protection visas. It is the only service of its kind provided by a community legal centre in South Australia.
Who do we help?
People seeking asylum who arrived in Australia as ‘unauthorised maritime arrivals’ between 13 August 2012 and 31 December 2013 (inclusive) have had their applications for protection frozen since late 2013. Following amendment of the Migration Act 1958 (Cth) in late 2014, these applicants were invited by the Department of Immigration (DIBP) to make applications under the new ‘fast track’ process. In May 2017 the Minister for Immigration announced that all fast track applications must be lodged by 1 October 2017.
Eligibility for pro bono assistance depends upon satisfying a means test to assess financial need. Asylum seekers with financial capacity are referred to commercial migration agents.
What assistance do we provide?
RASSA initially provided assistance in completing applications for either Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs), or Safe Haven Enterprise Visas (SHEVs). Since the 1 October 2017 deadline, we have shifted our focus to providing further assistance to fast track applicants who have lodged a protection visa application, including assistance to seek a review of a ‘fast track’ visa refusal to the Immigration Assessment Authority (IAA). This assistance is provided by registered migration agents, either RASSA’s employed migration agent, or one of our volunteer migration agents. We are not currently able to act as a migration agent of record with DIBP, or to attend the applicant’s interview with the DIBP decision maker. Applicants seeking assistance with judicial review proceedings should contact JusticeNet SA.
How are clients referred to RASSA?
RASSA does not offer a drop-in service, and our services are by appointment only. Almost all of RASSA’s clients are referred to RASSA by their case worker at one of the various settlement support agencies, including the Red Cross, Migrant Resource Centre, Life Without Barriers and STTARS. Referrals to RASSA, and assistance with completing our means test, can also be obtained from volunteers at Hope’s Café at the Clayton Wesley Uniting Church on the corner of Norwood Parade and Portrush Road, please contact Hope’s Cafe to confirm times.
For more information about seeking assistance from RASSA for yourself or a client, see our Referrals page.
Why is the Migration Assistance Project so important?
RASSA’s Migration Assistance Project is the only service of its kind provided by a community legal centre in South Australia. Assistance with applications under the ‘fast track’ is not currently being funded within the legal aid budget (as is now the case in Victoria), and the federal government has abolished assistance under the Immigration Advice and Application Assistance Scheme (IAAAS) for ‘unauthorised boat arrivals’.
There are estimated to be approximately 30,000 people in Australia who are already being, or will be, processed under the ‘fast track’. Of these approximately 2,500 are resident in South Australia. Many of these people subsist in the community on Bridging Visas, with government assistance through Centrelink limited to 89% of the adult NewStart benefit. The recent announcement that all applications must be lodged by 1 October 2017 has placed further pressure on pro bono services.
Asylum seekers have been identified by the Red Cross as one of the most vulnerable groups in Australia. Their ability to access Australia’s protection depends upon their ability to negotiate the highly technical application process. It is inevitable that without skilled assistance many genuine refugees will be wrongly refused protection. The application process is highly distressing, and the lack of professional assistance puts already vulnerable families at increased risk. Faced with the prospect of completing their application without professional help, many families will resort to borrowing money, often at punitive rates of interest, in order to hire a migration agent.
Our project aims to assist as many asylum seekers as possible, who cannot afford a commercial migration agent, to access profession assistance to complete their application for protection. This is even more important as under the new ‘fast track’ process any review of the Department’s decision is extremely limited.
How does RASSA spend its money?
The Migration Assistance Project runs on a very tight budget. By far our greatest expense is the cost of employing two part-time staff, a registered migration agent and a project co-ordinator. Our office accommodation on Victoria Square is provided by the Flinders University Law School, whose Clinical Legal Education Program partners with RASSA to support the Project. In addition to the cost of wages, we have to cover some office expenses such as stationery, the costs of telephones for our staff, and insurance and other costs associated with providing the service. Our management committee is entirely voluntary. The cost of operating the Project in 2017 is approximately $7,500 per month.
We have been lucky to attract one off grants from Community Benefit SA, the Broadley Trust and the Law Foundation of South Australia, which have covered the majority of the costs of this service to 31 December 2017. From 1 January 2018 our service will be without a major grant to fund our staff costs, and we will be reliant on accumlated donations and fundraising events unless we can obtain further funding.