As the nation marks Refugee Week from 20-26 June, the Uniting Church has joined other Christian churches in sharing a vision for a more welcoming and compassionate Australia where all are treated fairly and can contribute their gifts to our society.
UCA President Dr Deidre Palmer and Assembly Associate General Secretary Rob Floyd who is the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce (ACRT) Chairperson joined a delegation in Canberra last week to meet with the office of the Hon Alex Hawke MP Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural Affairs.
The delegation spoke to the Minister’s staff about ways the Government and Churches could work together to better support refugees living in Australia and to find new ways to provide avenues for refugees to find safety and protection through a revised community sponsorship initiative.
“Our churches have a shared vision of an Australia which is welcoming and compassionate, where people who are refugees and seeking asylum will find a place, where they are treated fairly, they feel welcome and safe, and they can contribute their gifts to our society, so that they and we can flourish”, said Dr Palmer in the media release shared by the ACRT this week.
The ACRT is calling on the Australian Government to:
- Conduct fair and timely assessment of claims for refugee status (putting resources into fair and timely assessment of claims and not into the exorbitant, unnecessary and harmful costs of detention).
- Support people seeking asylum to live in the community with adequate income and access to health care during the assessment of their claims (if they are unable to find work to support themselves).
- Introduce community sponsorship of refugees as a new mechanism in Australia to provide safety and protection for those seeking refuge.
Taking a more humane approach to the way we welcome refugees in Australia would create a greater sense of cohesion and belonging for all Australians, said Rob Floyd.
“Humane treatment for those currently in Australia seeking safety, together with a new community supported refugee intake program will foster connectedness, cohesion and revitalisation not just for refugees and their families but for Australian communities,” he said.
The ACRT is an affiliate of the Community Refugee Sponsorship Initiative (CRSI) which is currently being trialled in Australia. This model is based on community groups in Australia committing to welcome and assist refugees as they settle into the community. The community would need to raise some funds to support the basic needs of the refugee(s) during their first year in Australia.
The current Community Support Program (CSP) which commenced in early 2018 is extremely expensive and gives priority to applicants who are ’job ready’ with ‘adequate English’ and coming from certain priority countries. This tends to preclude those in most urgent need of resettlement.
The delegation spoke with the Minister’s department about ways churches and other faith communities are willing and able to take a greater role in supporting people seeking asylum to live and contribute to our communities.
Ms Elizabeth Stone, General Secretary at the National Council of Churches in Australia said “We need government to make the changes to end detention and to support and encourage this community movement by giving permanent protection. It is good for Australia in so many ways.”
Refugee Week is an opportunity for Australians to experience and celebrate the rich diversity of refugee communities and aims to improve understanding of the refugee experience. This year’s theme is “Unity, the way forward.”
Tiono and Fatima Lim, members of Camberwell Uniting Church in Melbourne came to Australia as refugees from Timor Leste. Tiono and Fatima gave their youngest daughter the name: “Uca” in appreciation for the support and care they received from their UCA community in Camberwell during their time as refugees.
Reflecting on the theme of unity this week, Tiono said for him belonging meant, “to be accepted or feel accepted no matter what your background is.”
When asked what UCA members could do to support refugees he said: “Volunteer your time and provide any assistance to help people integrate into the community.”
There are a number of opportunities to get involved in Refugee Week and learn more about the challenges refugees face. See links below.
Rev Anne Hewitt, General Secretary of Churches Together SA has compiled a worship resource for Refugee Week using the readings for this week, but can be used for coming weeks too, or for private prayers this week.
Refugee Week Resources:
Learn more about what local Uniting Churches are doing: Read about the work of the Indooroopilly Uniting Church (IUC) Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support Hub in Brisbane in the story Walking alongside those who seek safety
Photos: Left - The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce delegation in Canberra on 17 June. Right. UCA Camberwell member Fatima Lim and her family who came to Australia from Timor Leste.