We can all walk with refugees

By Tamara Domicelj, 25 June 2022
Tamara Domicelj, Country Director of JRS Australia (right), with (from left), Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of Parramatta, and refugees Hava and Magdalene. Image: Diocese of Parramatta.


If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it. – 1 Corinthians 12:26

When issues such as the refugee crisis seem overwhelming, Tamara Domicelj, Country Director JRS Australia, reassures us that actions we take at the local level make a difference.

This is an abridged version of the address she gave to leaders from our parishes at a March gathering organised by the Diocese of Parramatta initiative, Diocesan Journey…Walking with Refugees and People Seeking Asylum.

Local engagement – human-to-human acts – are an increasingly prominent part of a global fabric of determined goodwill which I believe is gaining strength in these volatile and harrowing times.

We are all bearing witness, here in Australia and overseas, to so many tragedies (not all refugee-related), with a devastating toll upon human lives, family unity, infrastructure and the environment.

We stand alongside Pope Francis and the broader Catholic Church in lamenting the ‘diabolical senselessness of violence’, in Ukraine and Afghanistan – and in Myanmar, Ethiopia, Yemen and beyond.

Amidst such calamitous scenes and stories, it is normal to feel overwhelmed and even pulled towards despair. We yearn to do more for those who are less safe than we are, and we can feel pained by our very human limitations.

And yet, we also bear witness to countless everyday acts of generosity and courage, small and large, which collectively are worthy beyond measure.

Prams left at train stations for fleeing Ukrainian parents to retrieve. Welcoming toys lined up across border-line bridges to comfort children. Algorithms developed to connect those with spare rooms with those who need them. Here, locally, neighbours saving neighbours from rooftops, in tinnies, amidst raging brown waters and debris. And everywhere, acts of proud defiance and resistance, as people speak truth to power: nuns kneeling before troops in Myanmar; crowds standing before heavily armoured tanks in the Ukraine; girls marching for access to their closed schools in Afghanistan.

We know that there is so much that we do not see, on our phones and news bulletins, from where cameras are no longer present, or never were, or from where footage cannot safely emerge.

Everyone has a role – and every contribution does count. Individually and collectively, they help to save and rebuild shattered lives.

Australia was amongst the majority of nations that affirmed the Global Compact on Refugees a few years ago. Over 70 years ago, it was Australia’s signature, the sixth amongst nations, which brought the International Refugees Convention into effect. Australia has, at times, played a pivotal role in this arena – including, historically, with our refugee resettlement program and humanitarian responses, such as under the Comprehensive Plan of Action in the late 1980s and ‘90s, when we welcomed around 70,000 refugees to our shores – mostly from Vietnam – many of whom have, of course, gone on to make extraordinary contributions to this country.

RELATED: Catholics help Australia reach ‘tipping point’ on refugee compassion

Currently much of Australia’s approach is relentlessly punitive, profoundly ill-conceived, and widely, globally, decried.

The financial, physical, psychological, ethical and reputational costs of all of that are immense.

We may be starting to see the fracturing of our egregious so-called “offshore processing” regime. There is much still to undo, but after nine long years Australia has finally accepted New Zealand’s offer to resettle 450 refugees. And people are also now leaving for the USA and Canada. There is extensive and sustained people power behind all of that.

I believe we can roll back this global crisis in humanitarian response. It will take time and tenacity. And we will need to be constant and collaborative in all of our efforts.

We are reminded in 1 Corinthians 12:26: “If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it”.

Please know that your donations of funds, material goods, and displays of compassion and care assure those refugees whom we serve, that they are welcome here; that we see and honour their courage and dignity; and that, in our shared humanity, we will continue to walk alongside them.

To find out how you can support refugees through your deanery, parish or school, or be involved in the “Diocesan Journey…Walking with Refugees” in the Diocese of Parramatta, go to parracatholic.org/socialjustice.

National Refugee Week takes place from 19 to 25 June 2022.

Tamara Domicelj, is Country Director of JRS Australia, one of several Catholic organisations which support refugees in the Diocese of Parramatta.

This article was originally published in the 2022 Ordinary Time | Winter 2022 edition of the Catholic Outlook Magazine. You can pick up your copy of the magazine in parishes, schools and offices across the Diocese of Parramatta now.


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