By Stephen Cauchi
7 February 2022
AN ASYLUM seeker support centre that’s helped hundreds of people will close its doors in the coming months, as its dedicated founder looks to wind down his involvement.
When David Spitteler founded the Asylum Seeker Centre in 1997, no one was helping asylum seekers. The situation has changed since then, but great need remains.
So Mr Spitteler plans to keep supporting asylum seekers, through the work of the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
A member of St Barnabas’ Glen Waverley, Mr Spitteler founded the ASC in 1997, when he was working four days a week, and looking to fill his day off.
At the start it was simple, then it grew, developing into a network of people who donated on a regular basis.
It’s now an interdenominational Christian response to the material needs of asylum seekers and refugees. With no paid staff, the Asylum Seeker Centre runs on about $100,000 annually, all donations.
Mr Spitteler said distributing food and other basics for free had always been a key plank of the centre, which currently had about 100 families seeking asylum on its books.
Mr Spitteler’s work at the centre was also instrumental in the development of the much larger Asylum Seeker Resource Centre.
He had been running the ASC for four years when he was asked by Victoria University welfare studies lecturer Kon Karapanagiotidis to give a talk to their class in 2001.
This outreach class which developed into the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, founded by Mr Karapanogiotidis.
Now aged 80, Mr Spitteler, decided it was time to close the Asylum Seeker Centre when the ASRC announced plans to move its hub to Dandenong.
But he wanted to continue helping people in need, so he plans to volunteer with the ASRC.
From the start, Mr Spitteler has run the ASC unpaid, in his spare time.
Its basic model has not changed over 25 years, but the needs of asylum seekers have.
Mr Spitteler said asylum seekers were allowed to work when the centre first opened. But soon after the Howard government introduced a no-work visa, which applied for most of the next 20 years.
Policy changes mean some asylum seekers also have no hope of permanent residency under the current legislation.
As well as his work supporting asylum seekers, Mr Spitteler is also a prolific, unpaid public speaker and lay preacher on asylum seekers and other topics.
Currently, he speaks about 100 times a year – about 50 sermons and about 50 community engagements.
He has also preached on holidays in Scotland, England, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Cairns and Broome.
“It’s given me opportunities. If I’m on holiday I will go to the church (and ask) do you want me to speak.”