25 September is the Vatican’s 108th World Day of Migrants and Refugee (Migrant and Refugee Sunday)
Migrant and Refugee Sunday this year invites us ‘to build a better future together’. It adds the realistic qualification: ‘wherever we might be right now’. It recognises that more refugees than ever before are now being driven from their homes and displaced by war, famine, drought and fear for the future. They rely on the support of other nations many of which are determined to shut them out, not to offer them hospitality. ‘Where we are now’ includes the challenge we face of handling and recovering from COVID, of economic challenges that demand great changes, and of threatening rifts in international relationships.
In Australia, however, where we are now is in a space of possibility. With the change of Government and a softening of language and actions concerning refugees, both they and people who care for them have dared to hope for a more compassionate policy. The sympathy expressed for the Nadesaligam family and subsequent grant of permanent residence, the release from long-term detention of many vulnerable people, and other small changes have encouraged hope of a policy based on compassion and not on deterrence.
World Migrant and Refugee Sunday encourages us to ask how we can build a better future together. Like other large goals such as addressing climate change, this can seem overwhelming. The task is enormous and the resources are few. We need to find a patch of rock at which we can chip away and go from there. As in all worthwhile human enterprises, small is beautiful. There are many ways in which we can give to refugees our time, our resources, our voice and our heart.
The most important gift is of our heart. We can take refugees into our heart by reading their stories, listening to them speak, allowing time to imagine what it must be like to flee from Ukraine fearing for your life and desperate to find food and a night’s shelter for your family, or what it must be like to be locked in a Melbourne hotel room, able to see people living normally outside but unable to join them. We can also pray for refugees, ensure that they are prayed for in our parish Masses, and we can make opportunities to meet them and to fit faces and stories to the word refugee.
If our heart is moved, the way we spend our time will naturally follow. We can take time to write to our local member of parliament, to attend meetings of support, to visit and support impoverished refugees in our local area, and join advocacy groups.
Refugee Week this year focuses on advocacy and settlement. They also invite us to give our voice and our resources. In Australia, no lasting move from a cruel to a compassionate policy can happen unless the majority of Australians support it. Advocacy is vital. The most important form of advocacy is personal – the conversations we have with friends and family, over morning tea at work or in the pub. As we speak up for refugees, we naturally come to know more about their situation and their treatment and join passionate people in their advocacy.
As we look at the extreme conditions of people languishing in detention and in immediate flight from war and famine we may easily overlook people in the Australian community who have waited for a long time for a response to their appeal for protection. They lack income support and often suffer from mental or physical illness. They need people to befriend them and help support them in other ways. We can do this by taking time for both prayer and action.
This year, the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA) will be focusing their National Week of Prayer and Action (held 25 -30 September) on things we can do now, that will help build the future we want: an Australia that welcomes people seeking asylum and treats them with humanity and compassion. Through using our voice, heart, time and resources – we have the opportunity to connect with and advocate alongside people seeking asylum and refugees to build this future.
For further information and to get involved, visit www.capsa.org.au/nwpa_2022/
To find out more about how you can help refugees and people seeking asylum in Western Sydney and the Blue Mountains, please visit parracatholic.org/socialjustice
Fr Andrew Hamilton SJ writes for Jesuit Communications and Jesuit Social Services.