As we reflect on 40 years of Jesuit Refugee Service, (JRS) and this challenging year, we thank you for walking with the children, women and men that we serve. Throughout 2020, your solidarity has been crucial. With the pandemic, people seeking asylum have struggled to meet their families’ needs, buy food, medicine and avoid destitution.
And, as we move closer to Christmas, JRS continues to receive countless calls from people needing urgent support. Some are new and others are already known to JRS. These people cannot claim JobKeeper or JobSeeker because people seeking asylum are excluded from all federal COVID-19 support packages. Thanks to the support of people like you, we are helping people through this crisis.
Take the case of Sunny, a father of four. In mid-July, he contacted JRS after losing his job at the height of the pandemic. The family had been in Australia for several years, awaiting the decision of their Protection Visa application, so were deemed ineligible for any federal COVID-19 support. At the time of contacting JRS, Sunny was already over $3,000 in rental arrears. Despite the moratorium on evictions, the family was issued a termination notice.
Sunny was desperately worried about what would happen to his family. He could not pay for his wife’s heart medication nor his son’s asthma medication. The family now faced the threat of homelessness.
This story is not at all uncommon, and unfortunately, the situation may deteriorate further. This new federal budget for 2020-21 slashed support to refugees and people seeking asylum by half. It also maintained the policy of excluding people seeking asylum from all federal COVID-19 safety nets, even after JRS and other civil rights advocates repeatedly raised concerns about the dire circumstances of Sunny, his family, and so many others.
As the crisis continues, and people remain unsupported, it is difficult for JRS to meet the demands of every family that calls. Since the pandemic, there has been an increase of more than 250% in people seeking emergency assistance from JRS by way of financial support and/or food. Countless clients have returned for help. But our resources are stretched thin, we need your help.
In the case of Sunny, our dedicated casework team swiftly responded to provide an immediate emergency relief payment. With this, he could buy life-saving medications for his wife and child. The family was also given access to the JRS Refugee Foodbank that delivers food packs to over 900 people every week.
Additionally, a JRS Caseworker now works with the family to help them meet longer-term financial, housing, healthcare, and psychosocial needs. JRS also covered the costs of the family’s outstanding prescriptions.
Sunny continues to look for work and is hopeful that he will find it in the Christmas season. Our Empowered to Work program continues to assist people, just like Sunny, so that they are work-ready. Sunny’s family were also given one of the few spots available for ongoing rental support. They now receive a small fortnightly allowance that allows the family to maintain their tenancy. This will make the difference between a safe Christmas and a Christmas on the streets.
But people still need urgent support amidst job losses, housing crises, concerns about poor health and general financial hardship. Our caseworkers also report that most conversations in the last month have included a reference to hopelessness, self-harm or even suicide.
This Christmas, and as we honour the 40 years of JRS’ existence, we reflect on the wonderful people whom we are honoured to serve. People who deserve dignity and hope. JRS accompanies and serves over 3,800 children, women and men every year. JRS also advocates for policies of welcome and protection. As we do not receive any federal government funding, we rely on the support of the community – people like you who believe that every human being deserves to be treated with dignity and respect.
We give emergency relief to over 200 families, including 400 children who face destitution without it. JRS provides specialist casework support, employment support and assists an ever-increasing number of women on temporary visas experiencing violence.
At Christmas, let’s remember that in each of these people, Jesus is present. Today, please join us in giving hope to our sisters and brothers who need it the most.
“In the faces of the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, strangers and prisoners, we are called to see the face of Christ who pleads with us to help. Displaced people offer us this opportunity to meet the Lord” ~ Pope Francis
Once again, on behalf of the people we serve, we thank you.
The JRS Australia Team
With thanks to Jesuit Refugee Services Australia.
* Names have been changed to protect identity.