They live on little more than $30 a day. Many speak little English and are not permitted to find permanent work.
Asylum seekers on bridging visas in Australia live a precarious existence, and most live with the anxiety of uncertainty for years.
Sister Brigid Arthur, co-coordinator of the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project, said she worried for the welfare of all involved in Friday's Commonwealth Bank fire at Springvale, in Melbourne's south-east.
But she called for compassion for the alleged attacker Nur Islam, saying government policies had "put people's lives on hold, not given them any kind of certainty or security about their future, and has them living in poverty and isolation".
Mr Islam, 21, a member of Myanmar's persecuted Rohingya minority, came to Australia by boat as an unaccompanied minor.
He is on a bridging visa after spending time on Christmas Island and at a detention centre in Queensland.
Sister Brigid said many Rohingya arrive traumatised after persecution. They speak little English and many are unable to find work.
Mental health problems were exacerbated by "huge anxiety" for the future, with some yet to receive a letter from the federal government inviting them to apply for asylum.
Even then, it could take years to process their application, to decide whether they can stay or be deported.
The government had removed most legal funding, so asylum seekers relied on pro bono help.
Asked what life is like for asylum seekers, Sister Brigid said: "I think extremely precarious. They suffer a lot of isolation, they are poor because they get 89 per cent of Newstart for an income to live on, not much more than $30 a day."
Friends of Mr Islam and members of Melbourne's Rohingya community told Fairfax Media that nothing could justify the unprovoked arson attack last Friday.
But while the refugee had become increasingly erratic over the past few months, there were few signs of an impending tragedy as Mr Islam ate fish curry with his six Myanmarese house mates last Thursday evening.
One of Mr Islam's friends said he was under mounting strain after being asked by his family to send money back to Myanmar to finance an older sister who was recently hospitalised.
Founder of the Australian Burmese Rohingya Organisation, Habib, said more than 90 per cent of community remained on bridging visas – some for as long as four years.
Few were willing to discuss their frustrations over fears they could jeopardise their applications for permanent residency.
"The government policy keeps changing all the time, which is causing uncertainty," Mr Habib said.
"Most of us want to just settle and begin our new lives, but we are in legal limbo."
Mr Habib last met with Mr Islam about three weeks ago at a Springvale restaurant and occasionally saw him at a mosque in Noble Park.
Usually referred to by his nickname Habib Nga Dat Byar, Mr Islam was unsettled and had few friends, according to Mr Habib.
"We can only guess what sort of mental state he was in, but obviously his problems had nothing to do with the bank or the innocent customers," he said.
Fadak Alfayadh, advocacy director for Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees, said the alleged Springvale culprit may not be a bad person.
She said constant rejections could "push people to breaking point", with asylum seekers having to cope with financial, employment, housing, legal and health problems, as well as anxiety over their visa status.
Ms Alfayadh has seen comments on social media "saying that maybe we should impose a ban on refugees because, 'see what they do', but people don't understand what that person went through."
David Manne, executive director of free legal service Refugee Legal, said we shouldn't jump to conclusions about what caused Friday's tragedy.
We should seek to understand "what's led to this, and also what measures could be put in place for people who do reach a point of such desperation".
"The pressures people are under with this [applying for asylum] process are immense."
Mr Manne said asylum seekers lived "every day with this profound uncertainty about the future" but the erosion of their rights and the increasingly punitive aspects have "only added to the immense pressure people are under".
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