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Curtin University
Centre for Human Rights Education

Policy as Punishment: Asylum Seekers in the Community without the Right to Work

By Gaylene Galardi 26 February 2014 Publications Research Comments Off

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Curtin University researchers from the Centre for Human Rights Education have just released the findings of the first academic study into the experiences of asylum seekers living in the community in Australia without the right to work. The study highlights the distress and fear caused by not being able to work and the ongoing uncertainty around the processing of their refugee claims. It also highlights the financial hardships faced by asylum seekers living without the right to work.

The research, conducted by Dr Lisa Hartley and Dr Caroline Fleay, is based upon extensive interviews with 29 asylum seekers in Perth, Sydney and Melbourne. All of those interviewed arrived in Australia by boat after 13 August 2012, the date when the no work rights policy commenced.

The no work rights policy was introduced by the previous Labor Government for all asylum seekers who arrived after 13 August 2012 by boat and were released from detention on bridging visas. The Labor Government announced that such arrivals would not be allowed the right to work while their refugee claims were being assessed. They are also only entitled to receive minimal services and financial support (just $223 per week for a single person). The policy continues under the Coalition Government.

This policy affects some 27,000 asylum seekers in Australia who continue to live well below the poverty line in a situation of forced unemployment and uncertainty. Once processing commences, it is likely to take years for all of these refugee claims to be finalised by the Department of Immigration and Border Protection. This means that the mental harm generated by this policy that is already evident will worsen.

The researchers’ recommendations include that the right to work must be granted to these asylum seekers and that their refugee claims be processed in a fair and credible manner consistent with Australia’s international human rights obligations.

Further details of the research findings and recommendations can be found in Policy as Punishment: Asylum Seekers Living in the Community without the Right to Work,

For further information and comment contact Dr Lisa Hartley and Dr Caroline Fleay.

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