If you read the paper, watch the news, interact with social media or otherwise have your eyes and ears open, you may have noticed the resurgence of a populist narrative around ‘African gangs’.
In early January 2018 a series of news stories were produced and public comments made by high profile Federal politicians declaring that Victoria was gripped by rising crime and community fear as a result of ‘African gangs.’ Since then, the campaign has continued – and is likely to continue in the lead up to election time. Not only is the reporting blatantly racist and highly sensational, but many of the claims have been refuted by a range of experts, including senior officers of Victoria Police.
I have spoken before about the negative effect racism has on health, both directly and indirectly. Many of the communities we serve have fled circumstances in which they were marginalised or outright persecuted for no other reason than their ethnicity, the colour of their skin, religious beliefs, or similar attribute.
Instead of the safe haven they might have expected to find at the end of what for many refugee and asylum seekers is a long and traumatic journey fraught with danger, increasingly there are elements of the Australian community that are perpetuating further stigmatisation and persecution. The South Sudanese community with which we work has told us firsthand of the terrible impact being a political pawn is having on their lives. We all need to commit to being part of the alterative narrative, one that is fair and welcoming.
Another area I am deeply concerned about is the impact on the health and welfare of people seeking asylum from the recently commenced cuts to the Status Resolution Support Service (SRSS). I know many of you are also aware of and concerned about this issue. As the changes roll out, many people seeking asylum will no longer have access to income support, with the risk that thousands of highly vulnerable people – including families with children and students – will be unable to pay for housing, food or medications.
From our conversations with our clients we know that the biggest impediments to them finding work is not any lack of motivation. Rather, it is a lack of jobs and the many systemic barriers to employment such as discrimination and insecure visa status. We hear about the terrible impact ongoing uncertainty has on both the mental and physical health of people seeking asylum, particularly from the delays in processing claims for asylum. This punitive and excessive cut to the support of asylum seekers must be reversed immediately.
On behalf of cohealth we have written to the Prime Minister to express our deep concerns and are working closely with a number of organisations such as the Network of Asylum Seeker Agencies Victoria, the Refugee Council of Australia and the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to support their campaigns.
We must continue to speak up for our vulnerable communities and speak out against this flagrant racism. We will be alert and ready to address the negative health impacts of racism and discrimination, particularly on young people. We will continue to challenge racism and the misrepresentation of groups in our communities. We urge the Government to treat all people seeking asylum with dignity and compassion, regardless of their status in the determination process. I encourage you all to look for ways in which we can support our communities, both at work and as we go about our day-to-day lives.