The federal government will pay families up to $300 a week to house asylum seekers in their homes to deal with the flood of arrivals, The Daily Telegraph splashed on its front page today. In the hours since, Crikey has learned, more than 300 households have applied.
Hosts will offer board to asylum seekers — likely to be male, aged between 18-25 and from Afghanistan or Sri Lanka — for just six weeks while their refugee claims are processed.
And the Australian Homestay Network is urging families to take more than one. “We want them to have two,” the head of the organising body, David Bycroft, told Crikey. “We think that if two come together there will be less issues and they won’t be as isolated. You can take one, but we’d like people to consider taking two.”
The privately-run AHN is running the Community Placement Network. For over five years AHN has been placing international students in the homes of local residents, who receive a fee for housing the students. That program was endorsed by a Senate inquiry and a NSW parliamentary inquiry into international students.
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The AHN approached the government with its suggested community placement plan late last year and has now begun taking applications for hosts. They’ll be provided with training, insurance and support from AHN and the Immigration Department.
“Homestay Network approaching us is an indication that there’s a lot of people out there who are sympathetic to what asylum seekers are facing and are willing to offer assistance,” a spokesperson from Immigration Minister Chris Bowen’s office said.
According to Bycroft: “We thought this model would work for the community placement of asylum seekers as well, if we just adjusted it a little bit and attracted the right type of host to do it for the right type of reasons.”
AHN currently has 5000 registered hosts for its international student clients, but expects a different crowd to take in asylum seekers.
“This is not a commercial proposition for hosting,” Bycroft said. “It’s more that the host would be doing it for goodwill, plus getting some expenses reimbursed that can be afforded through the asylum seekers’ own contributions through us.”
People on bridging visas receive a living allowance equivalent to Newstart (although technically it is classified as 89% of a Centrelink Special Benefit). That amount is currently $489.70 per fortnight for a single person with no children. Through this program, part of the living allowance — an estimated $220-300 a week — will be paid through the AHN to hosts.
In return, hosts must provide:
“… their own bedroom, bed, desk, chair, adequate lighting, heating/cooling and some kitchen cupboard and fridge space. The accommodation offered to guests will need to be clean, orderly and in good condition. It must comply with current council building regulations, be properly furnished, within the family living area, and offer privacy. Many guests may also require a small mat in their bedroom for prayer (this mat must not be used for any other purpose and especially not walked over).”
Food may or may not be included; that’s arranged on a case-by-case basis. As they are on bridging visas, asylum seekers also have the right to work, so the proximity to public transport and potential employers is encouraged.
The Community Placement Network agency offers a comprehensive list of questions and answers for potential hosts on its website, from the practical — “How can I communicate with my guest, if they speak very little English?” — to the more obscure: “I told my guest to ‘help themself’ to food but when I arrived home they had eaten all the snacks” (it suggests explaining house rules, plus “you may wish to keep a container in the pantry or fridge with ‘snacks’ written on it so the guest knows exactly what they can take”).
Hosts came from all over Australia and from a variety of backgrounds. “We get old people, young people, single people,” said Bycroft. “What we have to do is process them to make sure that we’re comfortable they are the right people.”
But not everyone who applies will get through; geographical locations are the most likely deterrent. Applications are being accepted from all capital cities except Hobart — the Gold and Sunshine coasts are also possible areas for placement.
Most regional cities are not currently suitable for hosting, but “if enough [potential hosts] show up in a region, we can probably start to build up that region once we get the support services for that group”, says Bycroft. “There’s a lot of interest coming from north Queensland and that’s potentially a place to set up a service network.”
Asylum seekers get to choose which city they will live in. “We want to open this up so that asylum seekers have a better choice of where they are living and working,” said Bycroft.
Hosts apply online with contact and location details. Once approved, applicants take an online test to see if they are suitable to be hosts. Crikey attempted to take the test, but our application is still awaiting sign-off from a local supervisor.