by Ruth Moraes
Catholic individuals, schools, parishes diocese and organisations have been supporting and advocating for people seeking asylum and refugees in Australia in decades. In recent weeks there have been a number of events which have shown what a force Catholics can be when we unite in support of a just cause and a vulnerable group of people.
Whether it is the 20th Anniversary of the Tampa fiasco and September 11, combined with the images of desperate Afghans trying to flee their country to safety, the last few weeks have seen a major outpouring of support for people seeking protection from Catholics all over the country and the world. Much of this concern is also from people who are seeing how dire the situation is and getting involved in assisting refugees for the first time.
When we were just beginning to see how bad the situation in Afghanistan could potentially become, several Catholic Bishops and leaders of NGOs called on the government to take swift and decisive action in support of Afghans. Vinnies, Caritas, the Jesuit Refugee Service, the House of Welcome and CAPSA have all been tirelessly campaigning for an increase in the number of Afghan refugees we accept and permanent protection for those who are already here.
Archbishop Anthony Fisher OP of Sydney launched the Archbishop’s Afghan Refugee Appeal and committed the Archdiocese’s resources in health, education and social services to assist Afghan refugees who arrive here. Archbishop Coleridge, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference called on the Prime Minister to accept 20,000 Afghan refugees. Bishop Vincent Long supported the increased intake of Afghan refugees and urged the government to grant Afghan refugees permanent protection and to prioritise family reunion.
In early September, Sydney Catholic Schools and the Justice and Peace Office co-hosted held a powerful and moving online panel and concert of hope “Raise your Hands for Afghanistan” to raise awareness and funds for the Archbishop’s Afghan refugee appeal. The primary speaker was Hava Rezaie who shared her story of fleeing for safety because of her position as a Hazara woman and human rights advocate in Afghanistan. The other panellists were Fr. Peter Smith Justice and Peace Promoter of the Archdiocese of Sydney and Phil Glendenning, Director of the Edmund Rice Centre. Fr Rob Galea lent his musical talents to the evening and spoke of his parish’s work with Afghan refugees in Bendigo and their desperation at this time.
In the lead up to the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, SJ Around the Bay, Vinnies and the Jesuit Refugee Service Australia held a webinar entitled “Hope out of Horror” drawing over 300 people to call on the Government to give permanent protection to all refugees, enable access to family reunions for refugees and offer safety need including medical and financial assistance to those seeking protection. The panellists were Bishop Vincent Long, Human Rights lawyer Julian Burnside, JRS Leadership Coordinator Zaki Haidiri and Ismail Hussein who is currently detained in Melbourne. The event engaged students from Vinnies schools and parish conferences, and several other guest speakers gave important insights on these urgent asks and called on everyone to show compassion in action.
On the World Day of Migrants and Refugees the Diocese of Parramatta hosted a Diocesan Conversation for Refugees and People Seeking Protection where people who have fled their home countries and sought protection in Australia could tell their stories. The speakers showcased how despite severe trauma and adversity they have been able to succeed in study, their professions and contribute to their new country.
Just after sunset on the night of the World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the Justice and Peace Office and the Sisters of St Joseph held a Call to Lamentation and Commitment vigil to remember all those who have died has a result of Australia’s cruel immigration detention policies. The vigil, which concluded the 150 Days of Action under the Patronage of St. Joseph the Refugee, drew hundreds of people from across the country to remember the lives lost and to call on the Government to take immediate action to treat people seeking protection here with the justice they deserve. A recording of the vigil has been sent to every federal Member of Parliament and Senator, urging them to work for a better future for all those seeking protection here.
The Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum has launched the National Week of Prayer and Action from 26thSeptember -1st October 2021 with their focus being particularly on Afghanistan. Their webinar on Tuesday night also drew hundreds of people who prayed together for justice for refugees and took action by signing a petition, showing their support on social media, agreeing to write to their MP or joining a delegation to go meet with their MP. Right now there are hundreds, if not thousands of Catholics mobilising across the country to show solidarity and support for our brothers and sisters seeking protection. If you would like to get involved in this campaign, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org.
These are only a few examples of events and actions which show what a force Catholics have been and continue to be in support of people seeking asylum and refugees. As we continue the fight for more compassionate treatment of people seeking asylum and refugees we can draw on the hope and vision that Pope Francis expressed in his prayer for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2021 to continue to inspire us: “Bless each act of welcome and outreachthat draws those in exile into the “we” of community and of the Church, so that our earth may truly become what you yourself created it to be: the common home of all our brothers and sisters.”