Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Refugees and Asylum Seekers Living in the Australian Community: The Importance of Work Rights and Employment Support

Academic journal article Australian Journal of Social Issues

Refugees and Asylum Seekers Living in the Australian Community: The Importance of Work Rights and Employment Support

Article excerpt


Dawood Jan (1) is an Afghan man of Hazara ethnicity who arrived in Australia by boat in May 2010 seeking asylum. He was held in immigration detention in remote north-western Australia for eighteen months, during which time his mental health deteriorated to the extent that he was prescribed antidepressant medication and was receiving regular counselling to cope with the trauma of potentially indefinite detention and waiting for his protection claim to be finalised. Part of Dawood Jan's anguish while in detention manifested as frequent nightmares, which meant he spent many nights reliving the violence he had fled in Afghanistan as well as the despair that he and others in long-term detention were enduring on a daily basis. He was finally released from detention in October 2012 and allowed to live in the community while processing of his protection claim continued.

Dawood Jan was initially placed into community detention for two months - a community-based arrangement that does not include the right to work. The support he received from extended family members and friends, case workers and a psychologist during this period of relative freedom enabled his mental health to begin to strengthen. However, his nightmares persisted as the initial feelings of immense relief at being released from detention soon gave way to boredom and anxiety. As Dawood Jan told one of the authors,

   when I am in community detention I had lots of nightmares,
   when I was not allowed to work and I didn't have any job.

He was then granted a Bridging Visa E, which allows a person to live in the community while their claim for protection is processed. Once he was granted a Bridging Visa that allowed him the right to work, and was able to secure full time employment, Dawood Jan's nightmares subsided.

This article explores the implications of long-term immigration detention and the ability of refugees and asylum seekers to adjust to living in the community while their protection claims continue to be processed. We use the term 'refugee' for individuals whose refugee status has been recognised in Australia and 'asylum seeker' for those whose refugee status is yet to be determined. A permanent visa is not granted in Australia until it is found that a person both meets the legal definition of a 'refugee' and has been given a security clearance. Those who we refer to as 'refugees' had received notification that their refugee status was recognised by Australia. Some, however, had not (yet) been given a security clearance by the time of their interview, or were waiting for the outcome of a judicial review of their negative claim decision. For those recognised as refugees but who continued to wait for their security clearances to be finalised (see Table 1), their future in the community was still uncertain.

This article draws on interviews with eleven men who arrived by boat to Australia in 2010 seeking asylum, including Dawood Jan. All of the men interviewed endured lengthy periods of detention and were finally released into the community prior to their protection claims being finalised. As Dawood Jan's experiences suggest, being granted the right to work and having the capacity to find employment are important elements in restoring the mental wellbeing of those who have endured long-term detention. This is not to downplay the importance of the emotional and practical support provided by family, friends, case workers and other support professionals. However, in this article we seek to acknowledge and elevate the social and personal benefits that employment can offer asylum seekers and refugees, which can also facilitate their integration into the host country.

Australia, like many other industrialised countries, has introduced a variety of policy measures designed to deter the arrival of asylum seekers via its maritime boundaries using the language of 'border control'. It is essential to consider the experiences of asylum seekers themselves in policy debates because, as Korac argues, 'the refugee situation is generally framed. …

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