Lebanese Muslims given special help to get welfare
A special taxpayer-funded forum was held last night to ensure Lebanese Australians rescued from the war-torn Middle East will get priority access to our welfare system. The event, organised by the Iemma Government, brought together key state and federal agencies including Centrelink, housing and immigration to spell out entitlements - including rushing evacuees to the top of the public housing queue. The extent of the support disproves claims from community leaders including Keysar Trad that Australia's response to the Middle East crisis was "racist".
Centrelink forms in Arabic were distributed at the Rockdale City Town Hall in southern Sydney, showing how the dole, pension and other entitlements could be accessed. As Australian citizens, the 4000 evacuees are entitled to the benefits regardless of how long they have lived overseas. While tens of thousands of people grow frustrated at the critical shortage in public housing, a Department of Housing bureaucrat revealed Lebanese Australians caught up in the Middle East crisis now had priority status. "These people are Australians who have been living in Lebanon or were visiting Lebanon," department spokeswoman Vicki Samonte told the meeting. "With the recent crisis in Lebanon there are some people who have been approved for priority housing because they have met the criteria, so these people have already been housed by the department. "There are others who have been asked to find a rental property on the private market and we will assist them. We know they are in crisis so we assist them with the full bond."
Last night's forum was hosted by the Community Relations Commission, a State Government agency chaired by campaigner Stepan Kerkyasharian. The forum was entitled "Services available for Australian Lebanese affected by the recent conflict in the Middle East". The 100 evacuees and Lebanese community leaders who attended were given tips on how to maximise welfare payments for members of the community. Centrelink officers were on hand to issue leaflets in Arabic explaining how to go about claiming the Newstart allowance and parenting payment.
Immigration Department officer Danuta Szuszkiewicz explained the different types of visas that could be used to bring relatives to Australia. "Children can sponsor their elderly parents provided more of the parents' children live inside Australia rather than outside Australia," she said. Another speaker, Centrelink multicultural services officer Amal Taki, advised Lebanese Australians to tell the agency about their ordeal straight away to avoid payment delays. "We encourage people to call Centrelink and tell us that they have just arrived and intend to claim for a payment," Ms Taki said. "In some cases people have not been saying that."
The generous welfare program discredits claims by some Lebanese community leaders that Australia did nothing to help its citizens trapped in Lebanon. "This Government is initiating racism here. There are signs of the Federal Government breeding racism," Mr Trad said.
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