Like everyone else the BMRSG community faced huge challenges when we were told to self isolate. But the refugees on various temporary visas faced much greater challenges. Distressing stories are coming through all the time about situations where jobs have been lost; people have been exposed to COVID 19 and expected to self isolate in crowded accommodation. Those on bridging visas, and that is most households we visit, have virtually no Covid19 related entitlements or general Centrelink access. They also may or may not have Medicare entitlements. Often these households had been managing well and our visitors’ support has been limited to home visits, friendship, chats, encouragement and periodic food vouchers. This has now all changed.
BMRSG is providing basic assistance and food from BMRSG funds for those we visit who now have no income. Currently we are paying the rent in full or in part for 7 households. Our visitors have been researching new rental laws and helping people apply for any possible assistance from Centrelink or other organisations. They have been working with households to find food banks and organisations who are funded to provide vouchers for electricity.
The pie chart below gives an indication of how funds received between March 24 and May 1, have been distributed. The largest item is rental subsidy. In this 5 week period $11,000 was spent on rent relief. Last year we spent $9,000 in the whole year. The airfare below was for a refugee to get back to his friends in Sydney. He had been released from detention on the other side of the country where he knew no one. $1,000 was spent on new warm clothes for people we visit in Villawood. The polyester jackets provided just aren’t comfortable!
Although personal visits into the Villawood Detention Centre have been suspended there are many ways to keep in touch; phone calls, Facebook, Messenger, emails and even good old snail mail cards and letters.
Learning how to do phone recharges online was a new experience for some of our older volunteers. This is one of the most useful ways to help someone locked up in Villawood, as their mobile phone is their lifeline to family and friends.
Villawood visitor Anne Henderson reports, “Moods are lower among the men. The men are understandably anxious of course and will be looking for any signs of infection or transmission .We were thrilled to hear that one of the young Sri Lankan men received a visa a few weeks ago and had been flown to Melbourne to be with his family. He wrote a lovely letter to thank us for the support we had provided to him. A couple of Visitors are busy sewing fabric masks to send in to Villawood for the detainees as an extra protection measure.
Now the colder weather is with us, we have asked the detainees what they need for warmer clothing such as beanies, jackets and track pants”. These items have now been delivered to Villawood.