More than 90 people from around the Diocese of Parramatta gathered online on World Day of Migrants and Refugees to hear the experience of those who have fled their homes and are now based in Australia.
The participants heard personal stories from someone currently seeking asylum in Australia and someone who has lived experience as a refugee in our community. They also had a chance to discuss their own reactions to these presentations in small groups and to ask questions, which were answered by an expert working in the field.
Participants learned that some people seeking asylum who have been here as long as nine years, have not been granted a permanent visa to stay in Australia due to Australian law. It means these people are living a permanently insecure existence. Even something as simple as a Medicare card needs to be reapplied for when it expires, rather than automatically rolling over. This situation leaves people with little regular income dangerously exposed if they become ill. The escalation of the situation in Afghanistan means that many refugees from this country will never be able to return home, and yet they are given little information as to their status and their future by our government. At the same time, many do not have work rights or government assistance and must rely on emergency food services to survive.
One speaker who is currently seeking asylum commented, “They are not even trying to tell us what our status is,” adding that he knows young people in his situation who have tried to take their own lives due to their constant anxiety and feelings of hopelessness towards the future. “It is sad to see the Australian Government treating us as another type of human being,” he said.
Those who have been lucky to gain permanent visas have shown how the resilience that refugees use to survive the situations they have escaped from, also drives them to make positive contributions to their new homeland.
Another speaker who arrived as a child from Afghanistan when it was invaded by the Russian army told her family’s story. Her father was a promising young architect with the courage to take his young family to safety after losing his brothers in the fighting. Despite being witnesses to atrocities, his four very young children have grown into successful young adults, now in the fields of journalism, social services and IT. Her mother is a nurse, and her father established an architectural firm that welcomes and employs young refugees.
Participants submitted questions to the speakers including asking their opinion of the Australian Government’s regular depiction of people seeking asylum as ‘queue jumpers’.
Speakers explained that no one who leaves their home to seek asylum does so by choice. “There is so much heartbreak behind it,” one said, adding that while she has been able to make a successful life in Australia, she had to leave her country “by force” and still remembers sadly leaving family and beloved pets behind.
Another commented on how the quotas that Australia accepts are so low, that people just need to take any opportunity they can to save their family. “Already the 3,000 places the Australian Government set for refugees from Afghanistan are filled,” she said. “We need to accept at least 20,000.”
Participants heard how they can take action:
- Providing food and toiletries through the Diocesan Food Drive and other fundraisers for organisations supporting refugees and people seeking asylum
- Signing the Christians United for Afghanistan petition which calls for a special refugee intake of 20,000 by Australia
- Writing to MPs or arranging a meeting to talk to them. The Sydney Alliance is offering an online workshop this evening at 5.30pm (Wednesday 29 September) on how to do this successfully.
- Offering friendship through the Parish Group Mentorship Program or organizing a ‘welcome dinner’
- Remembering refugees and people seeking asylum in prayer in Mass or a “Circle of Silence”
- One powerful yet simple support for refugees is to help change attitudes and raise awareness in everyday conversations, or inviting a refugee to speak to your parish or school group.
The participants received a sheet with these and more action ideas, which you can download here.
The Diocesan Conversation with Refugees was organised by the “Diocesan Journey… Walking with Refugees” team. If you are interested in hosting a local Community Conversation in your parish, school or organisation, you can find more information here. Please contact firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any questions.
The World Day of Migrants and Refugees was held on Sunday 26 September.
Read Pope Francis’ Pope Francis’ Message for the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees here.
The refugee speakers in this story have not been identified, as many fear retribution regarding their claims for asylum and for family still in their country.