Iranian Women’s Association Campaign for Permanency

The Iranian Women’s Association has launched a petition that says that since COVID-19 has temporarily stopped migration, now is the time for the Australian government to provide permanent visas to refugees and asylum seekers.

The petition points out many of the refugees have lived in our community for many years and have demonstrated their commitment to the Australian way of life, and are highly motivated and often entrepreneurial – they pay their taxes, some have started new businesses and many are highly educated.  
The refugees and asylum seekers did not leave their homelands willingly. They are forced to leave behind their loved ones and livelihoods because it is unsafe for them to stay.  Australia is now their only home, but many only have temporary visas.

Now is the time to provide individuals and families with permanent visas, so they can build their futures with us. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it is that ‘we’re in this together’, the IWA says. Permanent visas are necessary for people to have a sense of stability and consolidate their sense of belonging. The time is now.

Circle of Friends Australia endorses this petition and encourages you to sign and circulate. The online petition which can be found here.

Support of refugee student scholarship holders

A partnership between COFA and the University of Adelaide.

The Guest Speaker at this year’s AGM was Alexander Reilly, Professor of Law, Adelaide Law School, University of Adelaide. He spoke about how the Universities the value of asylum seekers gaining access to tertiary education. Yet the government classifies asylum seekers as foreign students making University fees for these students are prohibitively high.

In response the University of Adelaide has a program which provides Scholarships to cover the University fees. But the scholarship doesn’t provide any income for the student’s living costs and the students who receive scholarships become ineligible for Centrelink support. It is hard for them to find work, and even if they do, insufficient time is left for study, and without another source of income most would have been forced to drop out. Circles of Friends Australia has been providing vital support for 13 of the 24 student scholarship holders. With only one exception, the scholastic performance of these students has been excellent, most consistently achieving high distinctions and distinctions.

Prof. Reilly also briefed us on the most recent figures on numbers of asylum seekers, including numbers held offshore, and in on-shore detention. For the most up-to-date figures, please see the relevant page in the web site of the Refugee Council of Australia.

Prof. Reilly concluded with the observation:

“It strikes me that the work of COFA reflects all that is wrong in government policy – filling gaps – Family reunion, reviews, assistance with basic living. There was great hope that after the last election there would be a change in policy, but the status quo has remained.

Since February 2018, Circles have raised and spent over $45,000 to support these students. The project is an example of teamwork. Circles participating include Blackwood Hills, and now also Henrietta’s Vinnies Circle, which have provided monthly living allowances, and helped with rent and utility bills. St Ignatius Refugee Support Group has provided computers and other educational materials, Rapid Response Circle has helped with rent, utility bills, and medical and dental costs, and Catherine’s Circle 124 has provided food boxes for a number of them. We are grateful for the generosity of the donors to each participating Circle, and the fine work of Terri Finn, the University’s Student Welfare Officer.

The Food Box Project

The Food Box Project was started by Rachel Lafain for Safe Haven Enterprise Visa (SHEV) holders who had lost jobs due to COVID-19. Catherine Russell of Circle 124 and Libby Hogarth, Circle 92, then collaborated to co-ordinate an expansion of this project. Catherine gathered the names of Bridging Visa holders in need of help, plus some on SHEVs and Temporary Protection Visas (TPVs). Free food was provided by Pathways 2nd Bite in Modbury, and other suppliers, and Rachel and Libby purchased additional necessities. By mid April, boxes of food, cleaning products and pharmaceutical items were being delivered by a team of 55 volunteers to 150 people across 63 houses.

When Rachel started a new circle to provide other services, and Libby resumed her migration agency business, co-ordination was continued by Catherine. Meanwhile, funds flowed in from private donors, and grants were gained from the Australian Red Cross, Grants SA and four other trusts. We, the management committee of COFA, members of the Circles, and the benefiting asylum seekers and refugees are deeply grateful for this generosity.

From the beginning of July Red Cross (using funds from the Federal Grant they received to assist people on Temporary Visas that had not been provided any Centrelink support during COVID-19) and the $10,000 we received from Grants SA, have reimbursed all the project’s food and essential expenses.

Going forward the good news is that a number of the food recipients are beginning to regain some level of employment, and it is hoped that their need for food aid will soon diminish. Overall, the project has been a remarkable success.

Willunga Circle of Friends 2020 Appeal

We would prefer to be seeing and talking to you but, due to COVID restrictions, our fund raising has been curtailed. As a result our funds have diminished. However the needs of asylum seekers and refugees have dramatically increased due to lack of government support.

We have been responding to urgent requests for food parcels, rent, warm clothes, blankets, quilts, heaters, driving licenses and phone plans.
Usually we raise $5,000 at our Quiz Nights, $3,500 at our Film Nights, and over $150 each week at our Shoe Shine. Thank you for your past contributions.

Please help us to continue supporting asylum seekers and refugees by donating what you would have spent at our previous fund raisers before 31 October 2020.

Click here to donate now.

Notes from the COFA Annual General Meeting, 14 August 2020

Annual general meetings are commonly thought to be routine and boring, but not this one, following such an extraordinary year.

Monica O’Wheel, Chair, and Bruce Whyatt, Treasurer, in their annual reports, focused on the pandemic, its impact on refugees and asylum seekers, and the response of COFA and its circles.

When COVID-19 hit Adelaide, the reaction was fast and generous, with Circles stepping up to support asylum seekers and refugees without income after they lost their jobs. They contacted people on Bridging Visas, raised money, distributed food and paid rent.” – Monica, COFA Committee Chair

With the advent of the Corona virus, many refugees have lost their jobs and are not receiving any government support. Their situation has become dire and, for many, their only means of survival is from charities such as COFA. When there is a desperate need on the part of people in our community, others respond with amazing generosity. Donations and grants rose from $91,000 in 2018 increasing to $204,000 in 2019, to $324,000 in FY 2020. This was also highlighted in the recent ABC radio and TV exposure. COFA received $23,000 in donations through the website in the following two weeks.” – Bruce, COFA Committee Treasurer

So how can a charity, operated purely by volunteers, and without money up its sleeve, respond so strongly and quickly? Two reasons stand out. First, COFA’s structure of affiliated member Circles have a flexibility that gives our organisation the agility to respond quickly when there is a new situation, and to meet the diverse range of needs asylum seekers and refugees. We have 200 active volunteers and the number of active circles has increased to 25, with 6 new ones being formed over the last few months to meet new needs arising from impacts of the pandemic. Over 400 individuals and 120 families were supported by circles over the last year. Second, the members of our Circles show again and again, and especially through the achievements of the last few months, extraordinary compassion, commitment, resourcefulness, skills and energy, in service of the welfare of asylum seekers and refugees. – Remarks of Monica and Bruce regarding the work of the circles

COVID-19 and its effects are in the front of our minds, yet the heartlessness and cruelty of present policies remain unchanged. So actions by COFA to alleviate the hardship and suffering of asylum seekers and refugees continue to be needed. There are many wonderful ways each active Circle has worked to meet the needs of the people they assist and these could fill a book. In upcoming news posts we will highlight just two of these: the largest project that the Circles of Friends Australia has ever embarked upon, the Food Box Project; and the project to support refugee student scholarship holders at the University of Adelaide. Stay tuned.