National

Calls for refugee support in virus crisis

By AAP Newswire

A lack of adequate information, financial support and medical care could see new arrivals and refugee populations isolated in Australia as the COVID-19 pandemic escalates.

The Refugee Council of Australia released its key priorities this week after the federal government issued new coronavirus social distancing guidelines.

Those priorities include providing a financial safety net and Medicare access to all, a simplified process for granting and renewing visas, moving people out of crowded detention centres and potentially placing families in regional areas.

Council chief executive Paul Power wants the federal government to extend supplementary crisis payments to everyone in need in Australia - including those on non-permanent visas.

"It's clearer than ever before that the health of everybody in the community is a concern because COVID-19 doesn't discriminate on the basis of people's citizenship or their visa status," Mr Power told AAP on Thursday.

"With the international movement of people grinding to a halt, we need to take care of everyone now in Australia.

"We cannot collectively afford to have people destitute, homeless and with no access to affordable medical help. The risk to public health is too great."

Mr Power says the government's bridging visas policy encourages "insecure casual work" which has now dried up.

Unable to gain government support, people are turning to charities that are also struggling to meet demand.

"The situation is quite challenging and chaotic at the moment in terms of people getting access to assistance," he said.

The Refugee Council of Australia wrote to a number of federal government agencies last week asking for a review of immigration detention centres in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The council suggests people should be released on bridging visas or detained in the community, in accommodation selected by the government.

Mr Power said this could benefit accommodation providers struggling due to the collapse of international and local tourism.

"The refugee council and its member organisations are ready to work with the government to help develop strategies to extend this support to people who most need it," he said.

New arrivals are struggling to access relevant and factual information in their own language because health messages are changing almost daily.

But, Mr Power said, discussions did take place with Multicultural NSW on Thursday to address the issue.