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Celebrating five years of helping asylum seekers
20 Jun 08 @ 10:00am by Ashlee Betteridge

Bridge for Asylum Seekers will celebrate its fifth anniversary with an art exhibition and birthday event at Balmain’s Circle Cafe this month.

The Five Dock and Balmain based organisation has provided more than 400 people released on Habeus Corpus orders or Bridging Visa Es with money to survive. These asylum seekers have no right to work, access to government assistance, Medicare or education and rely on support from charity. Virginia Walker, Five Dock resident, co-founder and honorary chairperson of the organisation, said she was happy to be celebrating the fifth anniversary.

The organisation ran on the “smell of an oily rag” and relied on help from friends and community donations, Ms Walker said. The group is currently looking after more than 130 asylum seekers, seven of whom are living in the Canada Bay area.

Asylum Seeker project coordinator Kate Maclurcan said the Federal Government’s abolition of temporary protection visas in last month’s budget was a positive step but there was more to be done. “We are very pleased that temporary protection visas have been abolished but we would like to see an end to the very crippling conditions of Bridging Visa E. We would like all people to have rights to work and Medicare,” Kate said.
 
Bridge for Asylum Seekers began in 2003 and has survived through fundraising, support from the community and funding from local councils. The art exhibition, which will feature works by refugees and donated pieces from artists, will hang at the cafe until June 21. The event is part of Refugee Week and works will be available for sale. Funds will go to support Bridge for Asylum Seekers.
The birthday event will be held on Sunday June 22. Federal Member for Sydney Tanya Plibersek will speak. There will also be an African drumming performance.

Balmain Village Voice June 2007 Article
Protection Not Punishment for Asylum Seekers
This article appeared in the June edition of the Village Voice magazine

LOCAL NEWSMAKERS

Kate Maclurcan recently risked losing her job as a co-ordinator with Bridge for Asylum Seekers Foundation (BASF) after funding for the project threatened to dry up.

Kate’s has worked with BASF for two years, providing financial support to asylum seekers living in the community on Bridging Visa Es or Habeas Corpus orders, who are not allowed to work. She first offered her spare room to refugees released into the community five years ago, and her advocacy extends through her music and substantial volunteer work.

What would happen if the organisation didn’t exist?
I hate to think. Families and single people just could not get by. They have nothing to eat, no access to a place to live or to medical help. These people have fl ed their homeland and need our protection.

Have you found the mainstream media coverage of issues around asylum seekers and immigration detention to be a help or hindrance to your cause?
That depends entirely on the slant of the coverage. I think it was Adele Horin whose column last year told of Peter Qasim’s seven years in detention. There was outrage. People had no idea our authorities were holding innocent people for so long. But we are dealing with these sorts of traumas on a daily basis.

What changes to asylum seeker policy do you feel are most crucial?
Firstly, get rid of Temporary Protection Visas. Once refugee protection is granted, it should not be conditional. We can’t imagine the horror of living on a TPV, terrified you could be sent home at any time. A TPV prevents you from applying for your family to come here - your husband, wife or children. Families are torn apart and distraught.

Secondly, give work rights and access to Medicare to those on Bridging Visas while they await the processing of their refugee claim.

At its National conference in April 2007, the ALP passed the changes to TPVs and guaranteed work rights topeople on BVEs. We hope this will occur.

Do you think the looming Federal election will provide a platform to campaign on refugee issues, or bury the issue further?
I do hope it will become an issue. I think there are thousands of Australians who are increasingly ashamed that our country treats refugees this way.

Is Bridge for Asylum Seeker Foundation currently dealing with funding issues?
We are always running to keep up! Recently the numbers we look after skyrocketed to 116. That is hard to sustain. Fortunately, some were granted protection visas and, consequently, able to start working. We are now back at 102. Money for my job was about to run out. Thankfully, Leichhardt Council voted unanimously to tip some more funds in. We are extremely grateful!

Contact Kate at BASF on 9810 5826 or visit www.asylumseekersfoundation.com