The Jesuit Refugee Service, the Sisters of Mercy Parramatta, and the Refugee Council of Australia, together approached the City of Parramatta recently to propose that the council become a Refugee Welcome Zone, a national initiative recognising local government areas that make a commitment in spirit to welcoming refugees into the community and acknowledging the positive contribution refugees make to society.
On 10 October 2016, the City of Parramatta, led by Administrator Amanda Chadwick, formally endorsed this recommendation and at a ceremony planned for later this year, Parramatta will become a Refugee Welcome Zone.
Maeve Brown is the Manager of Jesuit Refugee Service’s Arrupe Project, which provides casework support, emergency relief, legal assistance and social and educational support to people seeking asylum. “The City of Parramatta has a long history of welcoming many thousands of refugees and people seeking asylum,” Maeve said. “Becoming a Refugee Welcome Zone recognises the council’s ongoing commitment and support for refugees.”
Sr Catherine Ryan RSM, Congregation Leader, Sisters of Mercy Parramatta, also welcomed the endorsement by the City of Parramatta. “The council’s decision demonstrates a commitment in spirit to welcoming refugees into our local community, upholding the human rights of refugees and demonstrating both compassion and an understanding of the suffering and traumas many of these people have endured.”
Sr Catherine also acknowledged that becoming a Refugee Welcome Zone was an important recognition of the tremendous contribution refugees have made over the years to enhancing the religious and cultural diversity of the Australian community.
The Refugee Council of Australia (RCOA) Acting Chief Executive Officer, Tim O’Connor, said the Refugee Welcome Zone initiative was a simple and effective way local councils could exercise positive leadership on refugee issues.
“Since Federation, Australia has welcomed more than 840,000 refugees and local councils have a proud history of helping support the settlement of refugees who have gone on to make a profound contribution to our economic, cultural and social life,” Tim said.
Recent research from RCOA across the 143 Refugee Welcome Zone signatory councils found those with large numbers of humanitarian arrivals, such as Parramatta, have developed extensive services and activities. However, Refugee Welcome Zones with smaller refugee populations are also active in implementing support and assistance to the increasing diversity of their community.
“Activities and initiatives introduced by local councils in Australia include local partnerships with community groups and service providers, Refugee Week and Harmony Week events, public forums, living libraries and community-based projects,” Tim said.
He encouraged more local councils to consider becoming a Refugee Welcome Zone. “The process for becoming a Refugee Welcome Zone is straightforward. Councils simply sign a declaration to welcome refugees, uphold their human rights, demonstrate compassion for new arrivals and enhance cultural and religious diversity. How councils implement the pledge is entirely up to them.”
To download a copy of the Refugee Welcome Zone report, click here.
Source: Refugee Council of Australia.