Hasan Sahib … has had little help since his release. Photo: Edwina Pickles
THOUSANDS of asylum seekers are struggling to live on as little as $31 a day, less money than the dole, camped in hostels and boarding houses across Australia with no access to government language training or official job schemes.
In what threatens to create a new migrant underclass, some people are forced to sleep on the floor without a mattress in share houses after they are given a meagre six weeks to learn English, secure work and long-term accommodation.
The chronic overcrowding of immigration detention centres has led to almost 3200 asylum seekers being tipped into the community on bridging visas over the past eight months, putting strain on charity groups looking after their welfare.
Hasan Sahib, an Iraqi asylum seeker, spent 18 months in detention before his release in March and says he feels powerless and without purpose.
''I was just released from detention: that's it,'' he said. ''I asked for help to find a job: even when we called Red Cross they did not answer. I wish to learn English but we're not allowed to study.''
Asylum seekers in a similar predicament are scattered across every state and territory, in suburbs and small country towns, creating a logistical nightmare for the Immigration Department to interview people about their refugee claims. The challenge is set to grow after two consecutive months of record boat arrivals, putting more strain on the detention network.
Authorities picked up two more vessels yesterday at Christmas and Cocos islands, carrying a total of 36 passengers. More than 3500 people sailed to Australia in June and July, with a total of more than 7100 arrivals since January.
Despite the mounting pressure, refugee support groups are convinced the federal government's decision last November to begin releasing asylum seekers into the community while their claims are finalised is far preferable - and cheaper - than long-term detention. But they warn not enough is being done to support people as they find their feet, often with little or no English.
''We have a waiting list for the first time in 11 years of people needing assistance,'' said Jana Favero, of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne.
Victoria and NSW are home to the most asylum seekers released from detention, with 1530 people living on what are known as ''Bridging Visa E'', according to the latest figures from the Immigration Department.
Mostly single men, they are provided a stipend for basic living expenses at 89 per cent of the lowest Centrelink payment, roughly $435 a fortnight. Some rental assistance is offered but not to all.
They are allowed to work but barred from using the official Job Services Australia system to find employment. No official support is provided for language training either, with a handful of volunteers seeking to fill the gap.
Ali, who asked not to be identified for fear his family could be persecuted at home, fled the Afghanistan-Pakistan border and arrived by boat in January. He was released from detention on a bridging visa four weeks ago and shares a three-bedroom house with five others in Dandenong, in Melbourne's south-east, sleeping on the floor with a blanket.
''Rents are very high so we are looking for more friends to join us, to make it cheaper,'' he told the Herald.