5 March 2014
The struggles facing asylum seekers in Australia is a much discussed topic of late. We talk to Melanie Noden, Chief Executive Officer of the Asylum Seekers Centre, about the practical support the centre provides and why they’re often the last resort for asylum seekers in desperate need of assistance.
The Asylum Seeker Centre (ASC) provides practical and personal support for asylum seekers living in the community. The not-for-profit group was founded in 1993 and offers a range of personal and practical services to asylum seeks including casework, accommodation, financial relief, employment assistance, health care and counselling, education, advocacy, food and recreational activities.
Based in NSW, the ASC is a place of warmth, support and comfort; often an oasis for women, men and children fleeing conflict, persecution, war and terror.
Ultimately, the group’s vision is that asylum seekers are welcomed and afforded a dignified, meaningful and safe existence pending the fair, transparent and expeditious resolution of their claims.
All-encompassing services to support vulnerable refugees
All of the ASC’s services combine to provide support, hope and dignity that enable clients to build a successful, independent life in Australia.
“Every client at the ASC receives a casework consultation who triage the services and support they may need. This includes emergency accommodation, food parcels as well as the daily hot lunch service, medical and health care (including dentistry), basic and intermediate English classes, computer and internet training, and employment services to those that have work rights. We also provide a range of recreation activities such as fitness classes and swimming lessons, working to help overcome social isolation and improve mental health,” said Melanie.
“We’re also working to establish our own legal clinic onsite, which will be an invaluable to the people we support, particularly when you consider the language challenges they often face.”
Limited Government support
Much of the ASC’s efforts rely on a strong supporter base of over 200 volunteers working across all program areas. The Bennelong Foundation is currently funding the ASC’s volunteer program, enabling the organisation to continue to address the diverse needs of the increasing number of asylum seekers in Australia.
The ASC employs 15 full time staff to manage their diverse and wide-reaching programs. They currently receive funding from the NSW Department of Health for two Refugee Health Nurses who provide medical and health care to clients at their onsite clinic. They have also received a grant from the NSW Government for capital works for their new home, Becher House.
“However, for everything else, we’re dependent on grants from external organisations and individuals,” said Melanie.
“One of the inherent challenges for asylum seekers is that as non-citizens, there are many services they are simply unable to access. For example, despite the fact that asylum seekers are the most vulnerable of the homeless - and almost half of our clients come to us hungry and homeless - much of the homeless services sector does not support asylum seekers. Likewise, most corporations, trusts and foundations will only fund projects for Australian citizens, which means we cannot apply for their support.”
Dispelling the myths and misconceptions
In addition to supporting the needs of their clients, the ASC works to advocate for community awareness of the issues of those seeking asylum. There is a significant amount of misinformation in the general community, which can lead to hostile attitudes.
“We aim to educate the greater community on why people seek asylum and address the myths and misconceptions. One of the developments from the Bennelong Foundation’s funding is that we now hold Quarterly Community Information Nights to which the wider community are invited to learn about the issues facing asylum seekers, and how we work to assist them in building the foundations for life in Australia,” said Melanie.
If you are interested in volunteering or donating to the Asylum Seeker Centre, please visit the website (asylumseekerscentre.org.au).
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