Asylum Seeker Resource Centre
|Headquarters||214-218 Nicholson Street, Footscray|
The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) is an asylum seeker support organisation in Australia. The ASRC, based in West Melbourne, provides aid, justice and empowerment programs to over 1000 asylum seekers living in the community seeking refugee protection.
The ASRC is run by a team of volunteer and paid staff. Soon after the centre was opened in 2001, the attention brought to asylum seekers issues by the Tampa affair in August of that year – when the Australian Government, under Prime Minister John Howard, refused to grant the Norwegian freighter MV Tampa, which had rescued 438 Afghan asylum seekers, permission to enter Australian waters – led to a greater interest in the centre and more volunteers signing up.
The mission of the ASRC is to ensure that 'all those seeking asylum in Australia have their human rights upheld and that those seeking asylum in our community receive the support and opportunities they need to live independently.’ Their core values are to ‘assist all asylum seekers regardless of race, religion, gender, health or sexuality’. The ASRC says it does not means or merit test for access to its services. Rather, they ‘advocate for asylum seekers without fear or favour’, working both at the personal and legislative level. They are focused on both empowering asylum seekers towards self-determination, as well as educating the community about asylum seekers.
The founder and current CEO of the ASRC, Kon Karapanagiotidis, is known for his provocative ways of bringing attention to asylum seeker issues, performing at the 2011 Melbourne International Comedy Festival, as well as elsewhere, as the Hateful Humanitarian.
The ASRC was founded in 2001 by Kon Karapanagiotidis, a lawyer, who was at the time a lecturer in welfare studies at the Victoria University of Technology (now Victoria University). At the time there were many asylum seekers living in the community on the Bridging Visa E (BVE), a visa generally given to those ‘unlawfully’ in the community who have to depart before the visa expires, though many are still appealing their case for asylum. Those on a BVE are denied access to Medicare or Centrelink and do not have the right to work. Karapanagiotidis and his welfare students raised funds to create a small food bank for asylum seekers, opening on the 8th of June 2001. A non-profit enterprise, Grasslands Grocery and Information Cafe, provided the ASRC with two rooms free of rent above a disused shop in Footscray, Melbourne.
To accommodate the increase in the number of asylum seekers receiving assistance, volunteers and programs, the ASRC has moved a number of times since 2001. One of the first programs to be introduced was the English as a Second Language (ESL) Program, beginning in August 2001. The Australian Government provides up to 510 hours of free English tuition to newly arrived citizens under the Adult Migrant English Program (AMEP). Due to visa conditions, however, not all asylum seekers were provided these classes.
After the Tampa incident in August 2001, an ASRC volunteer information evening in September 2001 had a high attendance. New volunteers included lawyers, doctors, nurses, ESL teachers and social workers. Soon after, Karapanagiotidis, along with volunteer lawyers, began providing free legal services to assist with asylum claims.
In Early 2002, the ASRC launched a number of new services, such as the first health service for asylum seekers in Victoria as well as counselling and casework services. In that year, the ASRC received funding from the Myer Foundation to employ a full-time coordinator.
Over the next few years, the ASRC introduced several new services, including the Employment Program, Social and Recreation Program, the Volunteer Support Program, the Community Meals Program and the Detention Friendship Program.
In 2007, the ASRC moved to a larger space in West Melbourne, allowing for further expansion. Again, new services were introduced, including the Small Business and Social Enterprise Program, ASRC Catering, Kidzone, the Asylum Seeker Outreach Children’s Playground, the Micro-Credit Scheme, Repatriation and the Post Detention Release Support Program.
In 2014, the ASRC moved to a still larger space at 214-218 Nicholson Street, Footscray.
The ASRC is made up of ‘5 pillars’: Aid, Justice, Empowerment, Community and Sustainability (referring to the sustainability of the company), which then divide into various programs, of which there are twenty in total.
The programs within Aid are: Material Aid, Food Bank, and Community Meals. The programs within Empowerment are: Social & Community Development, Employment, ESL, Home English Tutoring, and Catering. The programs within Justice are: Human Rights Law, Casework, Health, Counselling, Campaigns, Supporting Asylum Seekers at Hearings (SASA). The programs within Community are: Marketing, Philanthropic Engagement, Corporate Partnerships, Volunteer Support, Youth & Student Engagement, and Community Speakers. And the programs within Organisational Sustainability are: Finance, Administration, and Operations.
The ASRC constitution sets out the basis for membership of the organisation, procedures for the conduct of meetings and defines the role of the Board. The centre is committed to community management through the involvement of community members on the Board.
While some of the work conducted by the ASRC is the provision of services to asylum seekers, the ASRC main purpose is to advocate for the rights of asylum seekers and runs several campaigns at any one time. The ASRC has run campaigns on healthcare access for asylum seekers, the perception of asylum seekers (Just Like Us), ending mandatory detention and getting kids out of detention (End Mandatory Detention - get kids out of detention), the Malaysia people swap, and the provision of a safety net for all asylum seekers (Safety Net for All Asylum Seekers).
The ASRC runs ASRC Catering, ASSET Cleaning Link, and ASSET Recruitment Services, which together have the intent of empowering asylum seekers through training and employment. The catering and cleaning services employ and train asylum seekers, whilst the recruitment service works to help asylum seekers enter the Australian workforce.
The head chef of ASRC catering, launched in 2005, is Cathy Maguire, previously Executive Chef at Soulmama, St Kilda, Melbourne. She was a panel chef in the first season of Ready Steady Cook, and appeared on Good Morning Australia, as well as The LifeStyle Channel, Channel 31 and ABC Radio.
Awards and Achievements
Since opening in 2001, the centre has been widely recognised for its community and human rights contributions. In 2010 the ASRC was the winner of the Westpac Kookaburra Award for an Outstanding Community Organisation, sponsored by Westpac bank and Our Community. Our Community recognised the ASRC for being a ‘hardworking, largely volunteer-based organisation that is working to protect and uphold the human rights, wellbeing and dignity of asylum seekers.’ Also in 2010, the ASRC was a finalist in the Melbourne Awards program for Contribution to Community, Community Organisation Division, as the ‘the largest provider of aid, advocacy and health services for asylum seekers in Australia.’ In 2009 the centre was a finalist in the Victorian Premier’s Community Volunteering Awards for the Community Volunteering Innovation Award (Metropolitan). In 2003 they were awarded the Australian Human Rights Commission Community Award –‘chosen due to the breadth and volume of their work and the day-to-day practical assistance provided to asylum seekers. They are a registered charity with no government funding.’ The ASRC is also featured on the Myer Foundation’s ‘Time Will Tell: Showcasing Stories of Good Philanthropy.’ 
On a national level, through campaigning and grassroots action the ASRC has played a role in positive action for refugees, including in the release of 62% of children that were in detention by June 2011, and in the ending of the Temporary Protection Visa (which was since re-introduced in 2014 under the Abbott Government, the end of the 45-day rule (the end of which has led to the right to work for a greater number of asylum seekers) and the closure of the Manus Regional Processing Centre and Nauru detention centre (which were re-opened in 2012 under the Gillard Government.
On a state level, the ASRC has been influential in securing Victorian TAFE access for asylum seekers. The ASRC gained access to up to 300 subsidised TAFE places for eligible asylum seekers in Victoria. In 2010, after successful lobbying from the ASRC along with other asylum seeker organisations, Victorian Public Transport concession cards and fares were made available to asylum seekers receiving aid from the ASRC, Hotham Mission or the Red Cross. Victoria is the first state to offer this support.
Publications and productions
In 2011 the ASRC produced a short play Not Just My Story. Not Just My Story started with a series of dramatic and creative storytelling workshops with 30 asylum seekers and was performed in the 2011 Human Rights Arts and Film Festival. The play was directed by Brunswick Women’s Theatre Director Catherine Simmonds in collaboration with Yumi Umiumare, Arnold Zable and Myles Mumford.
The ASRC runs a blog, Champions of Change, publishing articles and updates about asylum seeker events. The blog focuses on children in detention, refugee policy, and stories of asylum seekers living in the community and in detention.
In October 2010, the ASRC published a welfare paper, Destitute and Uncertain: the reality of seeking asylum in Australia. The purpose of this paper was to 'educate, advocate and work constructively towards better practices and processes regarding the welfare needs to asylum seekers ... The paper outlines a best practice model for respondong to the welfare needs ot asylum seekers'.
The ASRC also published Locked Out: Position Paper on Homelessness of Asylum Seekers Living in the Community. This paper references the UNHCR's 2008 figures, which say that in 2007/08, 97.3% of the 4750 asylum seeker applications submitted in Australia came from people who arrived by plane and now live in the Australian community.
The ASRC publication A Case For Justice:Position Paper on the Legal Process of Seeking Asylum in Australia seeks to 'advocate, educate and work constructively towards better practices and processes in the refugee determination system. The numerous case examples are based on the real-life experiences of clients of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) Legal Program, and reflect the experiences of many asylum seekers.'
Kon Karapanagiotidis (CEO)
Growing up in a Greek household in country Victoria, with his own family being called 'not Australian', Karapanagiotidis is the founder and current CEO of the ASRC. Discussing his family, he says he grew up 'watching their experiences. Common experiences of all migrants - racism, exclusion, discrimination, exploitation - very hard lives'.
Karapanagiotidis' work as CEO has been widely recognised. In 2011, he was awarded the Order of Australia for ‘For service to the community through refugee assistance organisations,’ and he was also recognised as the Young Achiever at La Trobe University Alumni Awards. Karapanagiotidis was a Finalist for Australian of the Year (Victoria) in 2008, invited to participate 2020 Summit in 2008, voted one of Australia’s twenty unsung heroes as part of the launch in 2008 of the new location of the National Portrait Gallery in Canberra, and voted one of Melbourne 100 most influential people in The Age Melbourne Magazine.
On 11 March 2016 The Age published a news story detailing allegations of a toxic work environment, mismanagement and bullying by Kon Karapanagiotidis at the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre to which the ASRC Board responded that its own investigation found no basis to the claims and that it continued to stand by its CEO.
In 2010 Pamela Curr (ASRC Campaign Program Coordinator) was one of Who’s Who Australian Women and in 2009 was admitted to the Victorian Women’s Honour Roll. She trained as a nurse and a midwife before completing a Diploma of Welfare Studies and a Bachelor in Community Development at Victoria University.
Pamela was involved with the Fairwear Australia campaign for five and a half years, has worked with the Victorian Peace Network, is a national spokesperson for the Greens for Refugees, and is involved with the Civil Rights Network. According to the ABC Drum, Pamela 'has worked in the past 15 years fighting for the human rights of first outworkers in the clothing industry and then for refugees and asylum seekers.’. Pamela writes articles for the ABC Drum, the Sydney Morning Herald, and Crikey about the detention of asylum seekers.
Together with the Baxter detainees, Curr ‘found’ Cornelia Rau in Baxter Detention Centre. Rua is an Australian Permanent Resident and German Citizen diagnosed with schizophrenia who was detained in Baxter for ten months in 2004-2005.
Patrons and Ambassadors
The ASRC patrons are Former High Court Judge, The Honourable Michael Kirby AC CMG; Eva Cox and Julian Burnside AO QC. The ambassadors are 2010 Australian of the year and mental health researcher Professor Patrick McGorry; authors Arnold Zable; Christos Tsiolkas; comedian Corinne Grant; and Australian band The Cat Empire. The late The Right Honourable Malcolm Fraser AC CH was also a patron of the ASRC.
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