On, Sunday 25 August, the Australian church celebrated Migrant and Refugee Sunday, reflecting on the theme, “It is not just about migrants but also about ourselves, our fears and our hopes. How is God encouraging and inviting us? Who are we becoming?”
Around 50 parishioners of The Good Shepherd Parish, Plumpton expressed how they live this as a community as they hosted a table talk conversation on Sunday 28 July about people seeking asylum in Australia.
The “Changing the Conversation about Asylum Seekers” campaign, an initiative of the Sydney Alliance, involves a person with lived experience as a refugee, or seeking asylum, speaking to a community and telling their story. Table talks are powerful in changing hearts and minds on these central issues. The talks are an opportunity to help us understand and reflect further on the issues around people seeking asylum in the light of our faith.
In the spirit of the Good Shepherd of providing safety and shelter to those who may be displaced or in danger, attendees focused their listening, thoughts, decisions and actions on those seeking protection in our community.
In preparation for the table talk, leaders from the Plumpton community shared their experiences and stories of migration with each other.
The central part of the table talk was hearing the story of Afghan refugee Hava Rezale’s journey to Australia. Hava has spoken at a number of table talks sessions hosted around the Diocese of Parramatta and the Archdiocese of Sydney.
Born in Afghanistan, Hava is part of the Hazaras community, a minority group that has and continues to be persecuted. To escape prejudice, Hava relocated to Iran for 25 years. During that time she finished her schooling and completed a teaching degree.
Although faced with difficulties, Hava has remained passionate about elevating the rights of disenfranchised groups including women. “In Iran, I established schools for all refugees as they did not have access to education. Right now, one of the schools that I had created is still open, but it has some problems and is in need of support.”
Following this time, Hava returned to Afghanistan. For ten years, she was the Director of the Department of Women’s Affairs in the Daykundi province. During this period, Hava also completed a law degree.
After that, “I was put into gaol by the Taliban — and tortured — I received a humanitarian visa to come to Australia.”
Hava continues to strive for education within Australia. “In 2018, my daughter and I achieved our High School Certificates, and today, both my daughter and I are studying. My daughter studies at Western Sydney University and I am with the Australian Catholic University. My son is also studying at Newcastle University,” she explained.
Always an advocate for social justice, Hava notes, “I also volunteer with Sydney Alliance as a part of the federal campaign team to help change policies and meet with politicians and talk about the plight of asylum seekers in my community.”
Despite being petite in stature, Hava has a powerful voice, as we listened in awe and silence.
The conversation and the follow up action that comes from this dialogue embodies the spirit and culture of The Good Shepherd Parish, Plumpton as a community. As soon as one enters, one experiences a spirit of welcome and hospitality. A few words of conversation and you can hear that people are connected and care for each other and live their faith in ways that make a significant difference to their local neighbourhood.
The feedback from those who attended the Plumpton table talk included comments such as, “Eye opener,” as well as the event highlighting the need for compassion and being aware of the issue first-hand. One attendee said they appreciated understanding more about the experience of people seeking asylum here in Australia. Another attendee said, “I loved that this felt like a safe place to talk about how we really feel about this, including my confusion. And the urgency to act now.”
Sr Louise McKeogh FMA is the Social Justice Coordinator and Caritas Diocesan Director of the Diocese of Parramatta.