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Parish communities building support for refugees and asylum seekers

Increased education and awareness, and a united voice from churches are just some of the things that are needed to help shift public opinion and policy in supporting refugees and asylum seekers. More than 20 people gathered at the Cardinal Knox Centre in East Melbourne on 11 October to discuss how Catholic parishes can strengthen the support provided to refugees and asylum seekers living in the community.
 
Long-time advocate and co-ordinator of the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project, Sr Brigid Arthur csb, provided up-to-date information on the policies and situations of those seeking asylum. Isaiah Lahai of the Jesuit Social Services Speakers Program, shared his moving first hand experience of being a young person trying to find a safe place to call home. A number of parish leaders also spoke about their experience in providing support to refugees and asylum seekers in their local areas.
 
Following the presentations, a lively discussion ensued about the continued need in upholding people seeking asylum, as well as Australia’s current treatment of refugees. There was sharing and recognition of the major contribution that Catholic parishes are making to people seeking asylum.
 
Discussions focussed on how parishes can be even more effective in supporting people seeking asylum.
 
Some of the comments included:
 
 •    Parish vitality is strengthened through supporting the needy, including asylum seekers and refugees
 •    Effective parish education is the key to unlocking enthusiastic parish support
 •    The parish priest is key to effective parish support - the parish priest must enable support to occur (we will consider presenting at next year’s clergy conference regarding parish support for asylum seekers and refugees)
 •    Letter writing and meeting with Members of Parliament and Senators continues to be a very effective way to remind government and political parties of our opposition to the way asylum seekers are treated
 •    Young adults will enthusiastically support the cause where it co-incides with their availability and capability – need to foster the growth and formation of young people.

These discussions and forums will continue to inform and provide practical means for parishes who want to support refugees and people seeking asylum. We urge any parishes that are interested in strengthening support for refugees and asylum seekers, but are unsure how, or would like additional resources or ideas, to contact Adrian Foley, Coordinator of Welcome the Asylum Seeker Parish Support Program at Adrian.Foley@css.org.au
 
Photos courtesy Kris Johnstone

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