Asylum seekers and refugees
To promote the Gospel message of welcome and support for asylum seekers and refugees to our Catholic parishes and schools. To encourage parishes and schools to reach out to asylum seekers and refugees, in appropriate ways within the capacity of each parish and school. To recognise and celebrate the contributions of parishes and schools providing support for asylum seekers. To support parishes, schools, agencies and individuals advocating for more humane asylum seeker policies.
To empower Catholic communities reaching out and supporting asylum seekers and refugees in their parishes and in the broader community. Foster a humane asylum seeker policy in Australia, where asylum seekers and refugees are welcomed and helped to settle in our communities.
Read what the Catholic Church teaches about asylum seekers and refugees here.
With thanks and acknowledgement to Catholic Social Services Victoria – Welcome the Asylum Seeker Support Project
There are many ways as individuals and as communities that we can help asylum seekers and refugees settle in our communities. Asylum seekers and refugees need shelter, gainful employment and friendship. Your community may be able to assist someone with their needs.
1) Pray for Asylum Seekers that they will receive a welcome, and enjoy peace and happiness in Australia and around the world.
Provide direct support
2) Welcome new asylum seekers into your community. If you know of asylum seekers or refugees who have recently moved into your community, contact them or people who are supporting them to see if you can help. It is very likely that they will need various forms of assistance – clothing, bedding, furniture, assistance with location of facilities (Buying an Opal card, shops, church or mosque, schools, etc). You might place a notice in your parish bulletin to alert parishioners to this initiative.
3) One of the greatest needs asylum seekers have is for accommodation. Your parish may want to support the House of Welcome Housing program. http://www.houseofwelcome.com.au/ alternatively, you may wish to provide support for expenses associated with maintaining accommodation – rates, utility usage fees, insurance cover etc. (It is suggested to work through your local St Vincent de Paul conference for this assistance)
4) Befriend an asylum seeker family. Take them on excursions, shopping, accessing community facilities. Always respect the persons /family’s privacy and independence. Show them friendship, make them feel welcome in your community, but be careful not to intrude into their private space. Ask them if you can help in any way, they may have simple needs that you are not aware of, but could easily help with.
Be aware of the child protection and safeguarding policy (Link to diocesan policy)
Provide indirect support
5) Collect items that may be useful for families, including furniture, bedding, crockery and donate to support agencies such as Jesuit Refugee Services, House of Welcome, Vinnies, or get a team together within your parish to deliver to families in need.
6) Support those who are already helping asylum seekers. This can include fundraising, donating money or donating food, providing hospitality, English language conversation or teaching English as a second language. You may be able to join in the weekly community meals at the house of welcome, or volunteer at Arup Place Parramatta, Vinnies, Mamre or Blue Mountains Refugee Support Group.
Provide educational support
1) Set up an asylum seeker support group within your Parish, perhaps your Social Justice Group, to find out more about the situation facing asylum seekers. Read relevant articles, organise and attend seminars. Become advocates for asylum seekers in your Parish; keep your Parish informed on what is happening to asylum seekers who have sought Australia’s and our protection. See the 2015 ACBC Social Justice Statement
2) Education campaigns are very important to promote understanding of the issues facing asylum seekers. Why not hold a community welcome dinner, Sydney Alliance change the conversation table talk, or a trivia night to discuss and promote this issue and raise funds to support asylum seekers?
3) Find out the facts about asylum seekers There are many misconceptions about asylum seekers in Australia, which is a large part of the reason the main political parties have such harsh policies. See the Refugee Council of Australia’s ‘Myths about refugees and asylum seekers’ web page at http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/f/myth-short.php, or visit the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre at http://www.asrc.org.au/resources/mythbusters/.
5) Invite speakers to visit your parish or group, to tell you about how they support asylum seekers, what are the current issues affecting asylum seekers, and how your parish can help.
These notes have been prepared to assist parishes consider how they might provide support to asylum seekers and refugees.
Every parish is called to reach out to its local community in response to local needs. Most parishes have competing needs and have to consider which needs they will respond to. Asylum seekers and refugees are among the most disadvantaged people in our community, and deserve our help. The following considerations may help to determine your parish’s approach to providing support:
Are there asylum seekers living within your parish or within easy travelling distance?
• Are there people within the parish who could assist with teaching, providing hospitality, or in other ways?
Could your parish assist asylum seekers financially, or partner with another parish to assist asylum seekers?
Do you have housing available within the parish that could be made available for asylum seekers? (Seek advice of an agency already working with housing asylum seekers)
What financial resources does the parish have to apply to this project? Will you need to raise funds?
Does fundraising need to commence before a final decision can be made? Is there a committed, reliable group of people in the parish who could carry this project forward and sustain it over time? If not, can such a group be built up? If this is going to be a parish project, you should discuss your proposal with your Parish Priest and perhaps the Parish Council at an early stage.
Next Steps Once you identify potential areas of support, you may wish to obtain more information before proceeding: If your project involves providing accommodation, you could invite one of the agencies or parishes already providing accommodation to give you their advice on issues to consider, and how to go about it. Similarly, there are parishes and agencies providing hospitality, teaching English, providing material aid, which would be very happy to discuss your proposals with you
2 Assisting Asylum Seekers And Refugees Parish Self Assessment Try to be clear on what responsibilities you intend to undertake, and where the boundaries of parish involvement will be – i.e. what you will help with, and what you will not help with (eg, teaching English, schooling). Don’t rush this process: it is important that your parish has time to take into account all the main issues, and reach agreement on how to proceed. When you have firmed up your proposals, ensure that key parish people are fully briefed and are on board – the Parish Priest, the Parish finance committee – and are regularly updated. Consider the potential for your support to raise awareness among parishioners and local schools Parishioners are likely to find the experience a very positive one in the life of the parish. How will you inform and engage the parish in the project? Select the parish team- Consider the skills required on the parish team, given the responsibilities the team will undertake. Who will lead the project? Ideally the project leader should have cross-cultural experience, be an effective team leader, be aware of issues that may arise and how they will be managed, and have the support of the parish priest. How will you select parishioners who will have contact with asylum seekers and refugees? How many parishioners will be directly involved? Parish volunteers will need to be sensitive always to the needs and privacy of the asylum seekers. Consider the gender balance of the parish team. Some cultures and religions have firm protocols regarding interaction of the sexes. Generally when meeting with people from other cultures, it is better for males to interact with males, and females with females. When visiting asylum seekers in their homes or privately, at least two visitors should be present. Consider necessary insurance.
If you will be relating directly to asylum seekers and refugees some training for the parish team will be necessary. Training may be available from one of the agencies who deal with asylum seekers, including CatholicCare, Jesuit Social Services, St Vincent de Paul Society, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre. Police and WWC checks are necessary for any members of your team who will have contact with children.
How will you make contact with asylum seekers whom you will support? How will you help? If you already know someone you would like to help, try to ascertain what assistance they already have, and their unmet needs
3 Assisting Asylum Seekers and Refugees Parish Self Assessment
if they have a case manager such as the Red Cross or Settlement Services, speak with the family, or with the family’s permission, contact their case manager to ascertain where you may be able to assist or if they do not have a case manager, try to establish what support they currently have (income support, income and employment, permission to work, access to Medicare, arrangements for children’s education, support from other people or groups) and what are their unmet needs where you may be able to assist If you do not already know someone who may need assistance, contact an agency which regularly supports asylum seekers such Jesuit Refugee Services, House of Welcome or Vinnies. These may be able to suggest someone in need of the kind of assistance your parish may be able to offer. Within the parish team, agree on the areas where the parish will provide support, and on the arrangements for relating to the individual/family.
Ensure that the boundaries for parish responsibility are clear to the parish team and to the asylum seeker individual/family. Which members of the parish team will have most contact with the family? The number of people who will normally have contact with the family should normally be limited to two or three, depending upon the social setting. If the meeting place will be at home, perhaps two visitors should be the limit at any time; if in a public meeting place, more people can participate. Ask the family what they would prefer. Who will keep an eye on the family’s welfare, while ensuring that their privacy is maintained? How would the parish respond to an emergency or an unforeseen situation within the asylum seeker family? Procedures to follow in emergency and unforeseen situations, including circumstances requiring referral to the parish team leader and hospital, police and emergency services should be documented and communicated to the parish team and the parish office. These procedures should be in place before responsibility is assumed. If you need further advice we can also put you in touch with other parishes and agencies who can give you expert and practical advice.
Which asylum seekers need accommodation and support? Individuals or families may receive limited funding through the Department of Immigration and Border Protection (DIBC). Even if they do receive support, this will be limited to 89% of the Newstart allowance, an amount insufficient for a person’s or a family’s accommodation and living needs, without private means or outside help.
Individuals or families with work rights but who are unable to secure the hours of work needed to meet living and accommodation costs in the private rental market. Individuals or families whose income has ceased, eg because of government refusal to recognise their claims as refugees. In these cases, any work rights and financial support are usually withdrawn. Without our assistance some asylum seekers are not able to meet living and accommodation costs in the private rental market.
Options for supporting accommodation – It is recommended to already work with an Asylum seeker Shelter / housing service i.e. Arrupe Place ( JRS ) or House of Welcome.
Depending upon the resources available to each parish, accommodation support offered may be for short or longer terms, or for a defined period. The options for provision of support can include, sponsoring an individual or family in private rental, in full or part. Clarify with all the terms of the offer, including the timeframe, who will bear what costs, expectations and restrictions on use of the dwelling, and any other issues. Most initial accommodation will be supported through settlement services International.
Summary of Issues to consider in providing ongoing support The main issues to consider include The need to identify the main point of contact for the family and for the parish – Other issues, mentioned above, include length of commitment, the extent of contribution to costs, expectations by the donor of the individual or family eg for upkeep of premises, involvement with donors, acceptable and non-acceptable performance Understanding the balance between providing support to asylum seekers and sensitivity to the need for the family’s independence and freedom of choice. It is an extremely important issue for parishes to ensure that appropriate arrangements are in place to protect the privacy and freedom of choice of the asylum seeker family. For any parish- interested to discuss accommodation assistance, please contact Agencies already supporting asylum seekers in this area. (House of Welcome, JRS, or JCA)
Resource assessment Before deciding upon offering rental support, the Parish will need to consider the resource implications of such support How much would it cost to rent a property? Consider the financial and other needs of an asylum seeker family. Some asylum seekers have work rights, others don’t. A family without work rights may need more financial support, while a family with work rights may not be able to obtain work. This may place additional support obligations on the parish. These issues can be explored with others who are engaged in this work. The parish will also need to consider its own resources and interests – Is there a committed, reliable group of people in the Parish who could carry this project forward and sustain it over time? Does the parish have the financial resources to part or fully fund rental for a significant period?
* The program would not be open-ended, but one year would probably be the minimum period. O Nor would it be good if other valued programs were to suffer financially from this new commitment.
* How much will be raised from fundraising, and how much from existing funds? Does fundraising need to commence before a final decision can be made?
* Would it be beneficial to partner with a neighbouring parish or organisation? Next Steps If your Parish decides to provide rental support, it will be necessary to work through a range of issues. Ensure that key parish people are on board – the Parish Priest, the Parish finance committee, the local SVdP conference, etc, and are regularly updated. Consider the potential for the project to engage parishioners and other communities, eg the local primary school in the project. How can the project be used to extend awareness of asylum seeker issues? Select and train the parish team.
* Who will lead the project?
* How many parishioners will be directly involved? How will they be selected, considering that they may encounter new issues in relation to religion, culture and family privacy?
* Who will train the parish team? Training may be available from one of the agencies who deal with asylum seekers, including CatholicCare, Jesuit Social Services, and St Vincent de Paul Society.
Consideration for rental assistance
Consider leasehold issues.
• How will the Parish engage with the landlord and real estate agent on behalf of an asylum seeker family? Who will sign the lease documents? o Will the asylum seeker family be required to contribute to the rent? To utilities or other payments? o Consider the leasehold obligations, eg for payment of rent, making good for fair wear and tear. Are responsibilities clear between the landlord, tenant and the Parish? Consider necessary insurances.• o Consider the need to amend parish insurances for any extra risks that may be incurred, eg parish volunteers involved with providing accommodation and interacting with the asylum seeker family. o Public liability insurance cover for the accommodation occupied by the asylum seeker family Consider the needs of the family in relation to food, clothing, schools, transport.• o Is the Parish able to help with any of these? Can Vinnies or other agencies help? o Will the family have access to medical and other services? o Who will keep an eye on the family’s welfare? o If the asylum seeker family are on bridging visas, they may be required to report regularly to an agency such as the Red Cross or SSI. It will be necessary to be clear on what supports the family has, and if there are any gaps which need to be addressed. Providing rental support for Asylum Seekers 3 Consider the needs of the family in relation to everyday support, hospitality and privacy.• o How will these be provided and maintained? o What will the Parish take responsibility for, and will the boundaries regarding responsibilities be clear? o Who will be the Parish contact? o How will the family’s privacy be ensured? Consider how the family will learn to fit in to Australian society.• o Will the parish assist the family to get to know their new environment? If so, the aim should be to assist the family to become empowered to settle – to learn the language, to understand social, political and economic realities, without unnecessary intervention by the parish.
We all need to meet, communicate and laugh with others, and to feel that we are valued and accepted, especially when we are in a new environment. Asylum seekers and refugees are no exception. Providing hospitality need not be expensive, but requires us to give our time and friendship to welcome the ‘strangers’ in our midst so that they may feel valued as our friends and neighbours.
Forms of Hospitality Support
There are many ways that we can provide support, limited only by our imagination. Some of the more common forms of support are Helping asylum seekers navigate their way around our community services and resources, including Centrelink, hospitals, transport, schools, asylum seeker support services such as the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, Vinnies and other support agencies, and so on Helping families move into new premises – helping them to obtain basic items of furniture, fridge, microwave oven, beds, bedclothing etc, and helping them to move their belongings into a new residence Visiting asylum seeker and refugee families in their homes for a cup of tea and a short talk. These visits can help put asylum seekers at their ease, to help them get to know you better, to discuss problems they may be experiencing, for example with food or furnishing needs, children’s education, how to get help with expenses, how to take care of the garden. Hosting or joining a periodic get-together in your neighbourhood of asylum seekers and refugees, to share each others’ company and food.
Limited English skills put them at a distinct disadvantage in their ability to access the resources and services necessary for daily survival in Australia. Added to these difficulties is the isolation experienced by many asylum seekers. They may have little knowledge of their local area and Australian customs, culture, and ways of doing things. They may have few, if any family or trusted friends to give them sound advice and moral support. Conversational English language skills and the support of trusted friends are fundamentally important to enable asylum seekers to start to rebuild their lives and integrate successfully into our community.
Asylum seekers and refugees often arrive in our communities with few resources other than their families, their life experiences, and the clothes they wear. In addition, many are not eligible for income support while in Australia. They need our help to meet their immediate living requirements and to achieve a basic standard of living. Many parishioners and parishes are very generous, regularly providing financial and material support to asylum seekers and other groups. What your parish undertakes to provide will depend upon your parish’s human and financial capacities, and how you feel called to give. Support can be provided in many ways: fundraising within the parish (consider trivia nights, collection drives but make sure you have checked that an agency or family is in need of the particular goods or donation before hand ), and providing the funds raised towards:
* rental support for a family or individual, either within the parish or another parish o assisting with utilities or other living expenses bills of asylum seekers
* supporting one of the agencies helping asylum seekers such as Catholic Care, Mamre, House of Welcome , JRS, Vinnies, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre (ASRC) – see their website for contact details and a full list.
Always check with the agency first when collecting non-perishable food and other items and making them available directly to asylum seekers, or other parishes or agencies supporting asylum seekers, as above contributing kitchenware, blankets, furniture, bicycles, toys and the like. Check with the agency of the needs first.
Salt of the earth, light of the world
“You are the salt of the earth; but if salt has lost its taste, how can its saltiness be restored? …You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven.”Matthew 5.13-16
To be light and salt for the world requires us to work for justice. It is the role of the Social Justice Office of the Diocese of Parramatta to identify, reflect on and respond to issues which affect society. The office disseminates information and possibilities for action to local parishes and liaises with other welfare and social justice organisations
Sr Louise McKeogh FMA
Address: 1-5 Marion St, Blacktown 2148
Phone: 02 9831 4911
All images used courtesy of the UNHCR