It’s National Refugee Week in Australia – and yesterday I had the privilege of attending one of the many activities that will be hosted around our nation this week.
Settlement Services International hosted a ‘Community Kitchen’ in Seven Hills, and many of their clients came and enjoyed a Sri Lankan feast. The tiny community kitchen was overflowing with rice, dahl, chicken, salads and desserts. Our team got the chance to eat, talk, play backgammon and just hang out with some very remarkable people – many of whom have arrived by boat to Australia. The lady I had lunch with apologised for her limited English and I apologised for my absolute lack of Farsi, Persian and Kurdish languages (hello!!!). We showed pictures of our kids and husbands, it was just two mums having a chat – albeit by photos!
In Australia we have many thousands of people who have left their homeland – for a range of reasons – including armed-conflict, threats of persecution – due to race, religion, nationality, social membership or political opinion. People we hear classified as ‘Refugees’ and ‘Asylum Seekers’ or sadly, as we often hear in the media … ‘Boat People’.
At the end of 2013, there were 15.4 million people identified as ‘refugees’ across the world (UNHCR Global Trends Report 2013). Globally, the UNHCR estimates that there were 937,000 asylum seekers at the end of 2012 (UNHCR Global Trends Report 2013).
This year, the Australian government has offered 13,750 places for people into our Humanitarian Program (Refugee Council of Australia). People who are accepted into this program are well supported as they start the process of finding a permanent place in the Australian community. It’s something we do really well.
An Asylum Seeker is someone who has left their homeland for the same reason as a refugee –however, their claim for protection remains unresolved, has not been substantiated, and they have not been granted permanent protection by any country.
According to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees – it states that people who have fled persecution have the lawful right to enter a country – irrespective of method of arrival – for the purpose of seeking asylum and should not be punished for doing so. All refugees were once asylum seekers (Refugee Council of Australia).
Australia has many thousands of people who are asylum seekers – living in our communities, and in Detention Centres. These people all have a name, a story, a family and hopes for a better future – just like you and I.
Life for an asylum seeker is very, very tough. They are a long way away from their family, community and network of support. Their mental health is typically very poor – many have experienced torture or trauma – either in their homeland, on their journey to Australia or during their time in detention. They are not able to work, most individuals have to live on approximately $32.45 / day – and this needs to cover rent, food, medicine, travel, clothes and electricity. They have no capacity to move out of poverty and they are only allowed a Temporary Visa – which has to be renewed every 3-6 months.
Jesus said in Matthew 25: 34 –36: “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you by the creation of the world.
For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.”
The heart of God is always focused on finding those who are on ‘the outside’ – and He has commissioned us to do all that we can to include, love and cause people to belong. His commands are our constant plumb line.
Refugees & Asylum Seekers need our love, inclusion, concern and respect.
At Hillsong, we have been involved in this area for some years now.
We have been involved in Villawood Detention Centre – supporting inmates, providing advocacy, pastoral care and support – for over 18 years.
Campaigns such as ‘Kilo of Kindness’ and ‘Stuff The Bus Christmas Appeal’ provide a way for our families to support other families through non-perishable food items, toys and useful household goods. We run ‘Shine’ – a self-esteem program – in conjunction with professional agencies that are supporting this vulnerable community. Our ESL classes (English as Second Language) are incredibly well attended. Our Colour Sisterhood girls have responded with incredible generosity via gift vouchers – to help families ‘set up house’. Educating people – from within church and through our conferences via asylum seekers telling their story – helps remove prejudice and wrong stereotypes. And, we are committed to doing more.
In an age where every tweet or instagram has a life cycle of 24hrs – and then we move on to the next entertaining picture or quote – we need to stop, listen and get more involved. In an age where we feel like we’ve done something – if we ‘like’, ‘retweet’ or ‘post a comment’ (clicktivism) – the words of Jesus stand true:
“And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me” (Matt 25: 40).
May we resonate with what is in the heart of our Saviour, Jesus:
MEGA PRAYER NIGHT
Check out many of the other great agencies who are working towards solution in this area of society, and may we continue to uphold government officials, church leaders and not-for-profit organisations that they would have wisdom and clarity and resource to bring CHANGE.
UNHCR.org/convention (1951 refugee convention information)
ssi.org.au (NSW based refugee and asylum seeker assistance)
chilout.org (Children in detention)