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Friday, November 11, 2022

‘I was lost’: Kyiose faced homelessness after arriving in Australia from Myanmar – and he’s not alone | Australian immigration and asylum

Kyiose Han did not know where to go when his brother kicked him out of home two years ago. Aged 17 at the time, Han, an orphan, had only recently arrived in Australia from Myanmar.

He had no job, no money and knew very little English.

“I was lost, I didn’t know where to go,” he said. “I didn’t know what to do, I just felt terrible, it was a real struggle.”

He reached out to a case worker at an intensive English centre who scrambled to find him crisis accomodation.

“I was very scared, what if I couldn’t find anything? I was newly arrived, I didn’t have any other relatives here, I didn’t know anyone, I was only 17.

“And at the time, I didn’t feel supported at all, I wasn’t receiving Centrelink or anything. If there was no crisis accomodation, I would’ve been on the street.”

Han was able to eventually find accomodation for six weeks, before landing a job at an aged care facility.

While he has stable accommodation in Sydney now, his experience is not a unique one. A survey of 100 asylum seekers conducted by Jesuit Refugee Services (JRS) Australia and Western Sydney University’s Translational Health Research Institute found they were at considerable risk of homelessness.

Kyiose Han
Migrants like Kyiose Han often find difficulty accessing support systems due to language barriers and unfamiliarity with potential support systems. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

Over half of the respondents had experienced some form of homelessness since arriving in Australia, with just under 10% of saying they had slept rough, in a car, or in another improvised dwelling.

A youth worker from a major charity in Sydney, who asked to be anonymous, told Guardian Australia they had recently made a compassionate exemption for a recently arrived migrant who was living on the street to stay at a crisis accomodation facility.

“He’s extremely vulnerable, he’s got some significant mental health issues, he has a serious lack of any support – financial, emotional or social,” the youth worker said.

“And because he’s a migrant, there are even more disadvantages he’s experiencing, with English as a second language and an unfamiliarity with the system.

“If we hadn’t intervened, he would have likely ended up significantly harming himself or being significantly harmed by someone else.”

According to the youth worker, without knowledge of the services that exist and familiarity of the processes, refugees, asylum seekers and recently arrived migrants could easily fall through the cracks.

Visa restrictions also limit migrants’ and asylum seekers’ capacity to work or to claim government financial support.

“So what is happening is they just make enough just to rent within an overcrowded shared living space,” said the youth worker.

“There are a lot of barriers in terms of trying to support clients or a demographic like this out of homelessness, because of the systemic barriers to employment, services, and government benefits.”

The JRS survey highlighted the extent of the challenges facing asylum seekers, with just under half of the respondents saying they had run out of food in the previous three months and couldn’t afford more.

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It also reflected the many ways the pandemic exacerbated these challenges, with just under a third reporting they had been evicted in 2020 despite the state government’s moratorium on evictions.

17% of respondents said they had experienced homelessness over multiple years, and one in four said the conditions of their housing made them feel “miserable, anxious or depressed”.

Nishadh Rego, the policy, advocacy, and communications manager at the Jesuit Refugee Service, said the report highlighted the precariousness of housing for asylum seekers.

“Despite the fact that these individuals are still going through the Refugee Status Determination process and may remain in Australia for years, many are issued bridging visas without work rights and/or study rights, leaving them in precarious situations, and in some cases, pushing people to return to situations of danger,” he said.

Kyiose Han
Han was unable to receive Centrelink support during his homelessness, an issue affecting others like him as well. Photograph: Carly Earl/The Guardian

“People seeking asylum, including those who are demonstrably unable to work for mental or even physical health reasons or to find work, are also not eligible for any form of Centrelink benefit.

“Without such a safety net, people are inevitably vulnerable to chronic housing insecurity or homelessness.”

Rego said pandemic restrictions, particularly the tough restrictions imposed on some of the most diverse suburbs in Sydney, had particularly affected asylum seekers.

“Excluded from jobseeker and jobkeeper support payments, people seeking asylum were often the first to lose their jobs or have hours reduced as the economic downturn struck.

“The economic downturn associated with prolonged lockdown measures has meant many more of those who were working in hospitality, security, food production/delivery, and retail lost their jobs, and may not have regained them.”

Rego said that as long as the federal government continues to withhold economic and social support, “the underlying root causes will remain”.

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