Time Running Out For Refugee Legal Service Funding


The Refugee Advice and Casework Service, commonly known as RACS, has made a last minute appeal for public donations as the organisation tries to mitigate the impact of massive cuts handed down by the Abbott government. 

RACS offers a range of services and provides assistance to asylum seekers as they navigate the complex legal path to being granted refugee status.

In 2014 the organisation saw 85 per cent of its budget disappear after the Coalition reversed 11 years of bipartisan support for government funding of refugee legal services.

RACS Fundraising Manager Andrew Kelly told New Matilda the impact was huge.

“At the election the then Opposition said they would ‘take the sugar off the table’ and that legal advice would not be supplied to asylum seekers by taxpayers anymore. That amounted to a budget cut of around $25 million,” he said.

RACS have been forced to scale back its services and try to fundraise the gap.

The organisation has managed to raise around $600,000 since then but now desperately need another $13,500 by midnight on Tuesday.

If they are able to raise that figure RACS will unlock another $51,000 of funding. That's thanks to an agreement with the Vincent Fairfax Family Foundation that rewards the legal service for meeting its quarterly targets by donating a further third on top of the total raised.

According to Kelly there are around 27,000 asylum seekers in Australia waiting to have their claims processed who do not have access to a lawyer.

Thanks to sweeping changes to the Migration Act passed in December last year those asylum seekers will only be eligible for Temporary Protection Visas, and subject to ‘fast track’ processing.

People in this group will no longer be able to present new evidence on appeal.

The Refugee Council of Australia, an umbrella organisation for support groups across the country, has expressed serious concern about the changes.

“When people have been through traumatic events or torture – particularly sexual violence or claims based on sexuality or gender preference – they are not likely to present that,” research coordinator Rebecca Eckard told New Matilda earlier this year.

“Our concern is that people who have legitimate claims for protection will be excluded because of these new laws.”

Kelly said the legislative changes meant it was vital asylum seeker had well prepared lawyers ready to present a thorough case on first hearing.

“For asylum seekers, RACS is the difference between staying and going,” he said.

The Department of Immigration has previously defended the new fast track processing system.

“The new Fast Track Assessment process will allow protection claims to be assessed more efficiently and ensure a more robust approach to protection assessments,” a spokesperson told New Matilda in February.

To Help RACS Reach Its Target You Can Donate Here.

Max Chalmers is a former New Matilda journalist and editorial staff member. His main areas of interest are asylum seekers, higher education and politics.