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Manus Refugee Donates His Only Money To Aussie Refugee Appeal

'I hate to be here on Manus and I don't want those people to be'.

01/09/2017 3:50 PM AEST | Updated 01/09/2017 3:50 PM AEST
Fairfax Media
The Manus Island centre, where Walid remains.

As refugee advocates scramble to cover asylum seekers left exposed by the Government's shock decision to cut off their welfare and housing support, an Afghan man on Manus Island has donated all the money he has in the world to help support his friends in Australia.

Up to several hundred people, formerly housed on Manus Island and Nauru but transported to Australia for medical treatment due to the lack of facilities on the islands, were informed on Monday their welfare payments would cease immediately, and they will have just three weeks to find private accommodation of their own.

The move, which came without warning on Monday and was spruiked by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton as a way of cutting off a "scam", has been slammed by refugee advocates as a ham-fisted attempt to force those people back to Manus and Nauru.

The asylum seekers, who have used legal challenges to fight their deportation back to Manus or Nauru, will have work rights in Australia but will face huge challenges in finding paid work within the three-week window before they become homeless.

Dutton told News Corp that each of these asylum seekers cost taxpayers "up to $120,000 a year" taking into account fortnightly income support of $300 a fortnight, plus costs for housing, utilities and healthcare, and tried to sell the brutal changes as a cost-cutting measure -- but failed to mention it costs Australia $573,000 to keep each asylum seeker on Manus and Nauru.

Refugee advocates have quickly mobilised to support those cut loose by the Government, organising fundraising campaigns and committing to providing food and shelter.

Efforts helmed by the Refugee Council of Australia ask people to donate to refugee agencies in their home state.

The Asylum Seeker Resource Centre is one of those, in Victoria, which received a heart-warming donation pledge from an unexpected source -- an Afghan refugee named Walid, who has been on Manus Island for four years.

Responding to a Facebook post, Walid offered $30 to the fundraising drive, which ASRC CEO Kon Karapanagiotidis said would provide two nights of accommodation for a refugee with no other options.

"Think about how profoundly humbling that is. A man who our Government continues to imprison, with nothing to his name, no freedom, no safety, gives some money so other refugees in Australia can have safety," Karapanagiotidis told HuffPost Australia.

"You're moved to tears by it but it's also quite devastating. This is a man who has nothing."

Speaking to HuffPost Australia from Manus, Walid explained where he got the money to donate. Refugee advocates in Australia regularly do their own fundraising to purchase phone credit for those on Manus and Nauru, giving them a lifeline back to their families -- wherever they are -- and to Australia.

"I can't work here [on Manus]. I get $30 each month for my mobile credit from an advocate friend in Australia. This time I told her, please send the money to Kon at ASRC. I want to help those people. I'm suffering here and I don't want them to suffer," Walid said.

Advocates, and Walid too, fear the ceasing of housing support will give many refugees and asylum seekers in Australia no choice but to return to Manus or Nauru.

"I don't want those people to be sent to Manus and Nauru. The situations here are so bad. It's really good to be in community in Australia instead of living in harsh conditions on Manus and Nauru," he said.

Karapanagiotidis said the gesture was a sign of the humanity of people in offshore detention.

"He gave up the only thing he had, so someone could have a roof over their head. I look at men like that and say we need more men like that in this country. It's a timely reminder of that compassion in action," he said.

"It shows the conscience of decent people."

He said Dutton's comments earlier this week complaining about the financial strain of refugees on Australia's budget were misguided, claiming these people were only receiving welfare payments because they were not permitted to work or study in the community.

Karapanagiotidis said fundraising efforts were ongoing across the country to support refugees left in limbo by the government's snap decision, and encouraged people to visit the Refugee Council's website for more information or to donate to the appeal.

"Speaking for the ASRC, we weren't working with this group of people because they were being looked after [by the government]. We made the commitment that, anyone left homeless, we would take them in and house them, anyone hungry we would provide food," he said.

"A number of these people have complex health and mental health issues, they're allowed to keep Medicare but the government has said nothing about whether their medicines are being covered. For those able to work, we're giving them help to find work."

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