At its annual meeting held over the weekend, the Uniting Church in Australia, Synod of Western Australia decided to step up its advocacy for people in Western Australia who are seeking asylum.
The Synod agreed to write to the West Australian Premier and Opposition Leader expressing their dismay that some children in WA are not automatically entitled to enrol in state schools while their families are making an application for asylum. The church will also write to Uniting Church schools in WA, requesting them to consider education programs for asylum seekers and refugees.
The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child requires Australia to recognise the right to education of everyone under the age of 18 years. Australia is therefore committed to making education compulsory and free for all and the Western Australian government needs to make sure our public schools are providing that service. While arrangements have been made with the Catholic Education system, this is not always an appropriate solution for students, especially if they live far from allocated schools.
The Uniting Church WA will also request that asylum seekers and refugees without sufficient income will be granted concession status for use on public transport in WA. Other states already provide these basic education services and transport concessions to include asylum seekers, but Western Australia does not.
Public transport concessions offer an important financial relief for people living on Centrelink payments lower than the Newstart allowance, to be able to access training, education or employment. For newly-arrived refugees and asylum seekers, their expected travel requirements are significantly greater, as they are likely to attend a range of appointments relating to their case, school enrolment, medical care, English language classes, plus many more.
Rev Steve Francis, moderator of the Uniting Church WA said that, “We continue to see the negative impacts of the Australian government’s harsh immigration policies in the lives of the people who come to our church agencies and support services. These are people who have so much to offer, but are continually restricted by our unfair approach. Here in WA we believe we can make some small changes to ease the burden on this vulnerable section of our community.”
The Synod also expressed their concerns with the ‘Fast Track Approval’ process for asylum seekers viewing the process as patently unfair. Asylum seekers have unreasonable expectations placed on them in regards to filling out lengthy and complex forms in English, obtaining the needed documentation, often without legal representation.
For a full account of the federal policy requests from the Uniting Church in Australia, read Shelter from the Storm, downloadable at http://www.unitingjustice.org.au/refugees-and-asylum-seekers/uca-statements/item/1105-shelter-from-the-storm.