Refugees In Australia Are Facing ‘Hidden Homelessness’ During The Pandemic

A new survey has revealed a high rate of homelessness among refugees in South West and Western Sydney during the peak of the pandemic last year.

A Place To Call Home — a joint project between the Jesuit Refugee Service and Western Sydney University — revealed that over 55 percent of respondents stated they had experienced some form of homelessness since arriving in Australia.

Additionally, nine percent had slept in improvised dwellings such as in a car or outdoors, while 14 percent said they had stayed in emergency accommodation since arrival. According to NSW Health, humanitarian arrivals to Western and South West Sydney average in the thousands annually.

“These findings show that significant numbers of people seeking asylum in Western Sydney were living in situations of poverty and homelessness even before the latest lockdown began,” JSU’s Policy and Advocate Manager Nishadh Rego said in a statement. “Our experience shows that struggles to put food on the table, pay rent, and buy medication have intensified”.

The survey described these insights as a form of ‘hidden homelessness’, and highlights the housing issues refugees face — including lack of official documents, and ineligibility for welfare payments.

“I searched for different properties, even sharing a house. They didn’t accept me,” Roya Hamidavi told the ABC at the start of August. Having been moved from Christmas Island to Australia, the Iranian mother and her young son were forced to sleep in a park until they could move into an overcrowded house with relatives.

As one of the few research projects to delve into the pandemic’s impact on refugee experiences of homelessness, the survey also attributed COVID restrictions and economic turmoil to the overall findings. Evictions and unaffordable rental prices were also said to play a role, as well as cash-in-hand jobs where proof of employment to show to landlords is hard to procure.

“Lockdown or not, there is an urgent need for the Federal Government to provide all people seeking safety in Australia with access to ongoing income support if they are unable to find safe and sustainable employment,” said Rego.

Welfare groups are anticipating an increase in general homelessness to be recorded in the upcoming census, according to the Sydney Morning Herald.


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