Brisbane Welcomes Refugees
Our loud voice: Australia welcomes refugees and asylum seekers
By Erwin Cabucos
First appeared in 'The Catholic Leader' on 1 November 2015
Bells tolled at Saints Peter and Paul Parish as experts and agencies on refugees and asylum seekers enlightened and inspired the audience, at the Social Justice Forum ‘For Those Who’ve come across the Seas’ on 17 October 2015.
“I wouldn’t have too many friends left if I talk too much of this issue with them,” said Mick (not his real name) at the workshop on finding ways to respond positively to refugees and asylum seekers.
“People just switch off when they begin to hear discussions on this issue,” added Mick.
Hosting parish priest Fr Tom Elich recognises the flame that keeps burning within our parishes towards caring for the poor and vulnerable in society.
But many participants commented that some priests and parishioners do need to be prodded to act justly and act now on the issue.
“Should we let prejudice and racism happen again before our very eyes? Have we not learned from the lessons of Nazism?” one participant stringently voiced out on bigotry and perpetuating stereotypes on refugees and asylum seekers.
Associate Professor Susan Harris-Rimmer from Griffith University discussed the social and historical contexts of the issue, saying: “Seeking asylum in Australia is legal and sadly United Nations Convention on Human Rights are not built in Australia’s migration laws.”
Harris-Rimmer also questioned society’s phobia against refugees and asylum seekers. Apart from the small number they comprise in the grand scale of immigration statistics, she highlighted recent ASIO findings that refugees and asylum seekers are not security threats.
Bruce Wells from the Refugees and Immigration Legal Service (RAILS) in Brisbane cited the on-going complexity of legal provisions surrounding refugees and asylum seekers, commenting on the astronomical expenses the government spends to each off-shore detainees – close to a million dollars a year – from keeping them away from Australia, on welfare, and preventing them from work.
Wells criticised the legal system and provisions that often lead to break up of families, harming mental health and well-beings of those caught up in the issue.
Rebecca Lim from the Romero Centre applauded the generosity of the community and disclosed her personal sentiments from working with refugees and asylum seekers.
“Often, on my visits to families of refugees overseas, I am entrusted with the future of their sons or husbands and indeed that is a profound sense of responsibility placed upon our work,” Lim said.
Lim also echoed recent findings of the Refugee Council of Australia that reveals refugees make substantial economic, civic and social contributions to Australian society, outperforming any other migrant group in the country.
Forum organiser Susan Fajardo acknowledged the presence of refugees in the audience as well as various agencies who work closely with them.
“It would be great to see inspiration and outcomes you received from this gathering and having them applied in your parish,” she said.
It is also making the teachings of Christ real in our lives, said Peter Arndt, Executive Officer of Brisbane Archdiocese’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission.
Arndt reiterated the importance of social teachings of the church on human dignity, respect, the common good, solidarity and preferential option for the poor and the vulnerable, bringing into context biblical passages of Leviticus 19:34 and Matthew 2:13, referring to Jesus’ refugee experience.
Arndt also emphasised the recent Australian Catholic Bishops Conference paper that comments on the cruelty of Australian laws on policies on the issue. He also cites Pope Francis call to lament on the insensitivity of the world towards asylum seekers and refugees.
Actions that could be taken to help refugees and asylum seekers include areas in accommodation and employment.
“Housing investors who would be willing to rent out houses and employers willing to employ refugees are very much who we need urgently,” Jo-Ann Cochran, the senior manager for community partnerships for MDA.
“We welcome furniture donations and Go Cards which become beneficial to our clients.”
Other agencies welcome volunteers for English tutorials, job-seeking and life-skills. They include The Refugee Association of Logan and the Romero Centre.
Everyone is invited to join the walk of solidarity from 11:00AM on 31 October 2015 commencing at Kurilpa Bridge to shout to the world that Australia welcomes refugees and asylum seekers.
Texts and photos by Erwin Cabucos
Recent arrival, Mazin, from Iraq, with contributor Erwin Cabucos at the Refugees Forum at Sts Peter and Paul Parish on Saturday 17 October 2015.
Mazin recalls how he was shot on the stomach, also losing his left hand when bomb detonated in the midst of Iran-Iraq war, before fleeing to Syrian refugee camp and then flying safely to Australia.
© 2015 Saya Education