On World Refugee Day – June 20 – a Good Samaritan Sister has called on people of goodwill to sign the Refugee Council of Australia’s online petition against thousands of asylum seekers losing vital government support that will leave many destitute.
Sister Catherine Norman, Chair of the Good Samaritan Refugee Support Network, said signing the petition would help the Refugee Council lobby the Australian Government to back down on its decision to cut Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS) to an estimated 12,000 people seeking asylum whose visa applications are yet to be considered.
Under the SRSS scheme, these people currently receive limited income support that is below the minimum payments made to anyone else in the Australian community.
The Australian Government’s decision to cut these services was originally set to take effect on June 18 but has been postponed to August – in part due to the nearly 10,000 people who have signed the Refugee Council’s petition which was delivered to Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull on June 18.
Catherine said while the SRSS support was often not enough to make ends meet, it enabled people seeking asylum to pay rent and other living expenses, and access some medical care, including torture and trauma counselling.
“The ramifications of cutting this support is devastating, as we have witnessed over the past six months when SRSS was cut to asylum seekers whose visa status was being challenged through the legal system.
“As the result of these cruel decisions, non-government agencies such as the Refugee Council of Australia, St Vincent de Paul Society, Asylum Seeker Resource Centre, The Romero Centre in Brisbane, Jesuit Refugee Service Australia, Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project in Melbourne and others, were having great difficulty finding the resources to help a growing number of people needing legal and language advice, support and financial assistance,” Catherine said.
Adding to the stress was the government’s progressive moves to withdraw financial support for asylum seekers who are in Australia for medical reasons and send them back to Nauru or Manus Island.
In these resource-stretched times, Catherine encouraged individual parishes and community groups to support an asylum seeker.
“If every parish across Australia did this, an enormous burden would be lifted from agencies struggling to find the necessary resources to help these people,” she said.
With the theme of this year’s Refugee Week, #withrefugees, Catherine said another way to show support was by attending one of the Good Samaritan Refugee Support Network screenings of movies about refugees – a way to gain a better understanding of what impels people to leave their home and seek asylum in a foreign country.
Between the Devil and the Deep Blue Sea will be shown at St Scholastica’s Glebe, Sydney at 5:30pm on Friday June 22, The Visitor at Mount St Benedict Centre, Pennant Hills, Sydney at 2:00pm on Saturday, June 23, The Good Lie at St Benedict’s Office in Northcote, Melbourne at 10:00am on Saturday June 23, and Constance on the Edge at Sts Peter and Paul Parish Hall, Bulimba, Brisbane at 2:00pm on Saturday June 23.
In Brisbane, Good Samaritan Sister Mary Randle, who for the past 12 years has supported a Sudanese family, will be watching Constance on the Edge about a mother of six from war-torn Sudan and her courage to forge a new life in regional Australia.
Mary said seeing movies such as Constance on the Edge help her awareness about what refugees go through.
“With Constance, we see her fight for her life, survive the refugee camp, get to Australia and then everything comes down on her and she gets depressed. And then she’s got children to support and bills to pay, as well as adapting to a new culture.”
She said often, when we see stories on the news about refugees, it all seems so dreadful and so big that we do nothing.
“But we can do little things. So, watching Constance on the Edge and other movies about refugees might tap into something in us and realise we can help even in small ways.”
In Sydney, Good Samaritan Sister Annette Giltrow recently raised $500 for Jesuit Refugee Service by hosting a meal. She was inspired by JRS’s “Cook 2 Connect” initiative, which is encouraging ordinary Australians – “whether you’re a master chef or home cook” – to organise a dinner party and “feed not only your guests, but raise funds for people seeking asylum in need”.
For Annette, who loves to cook and share the fruits of her labours with others, hosting a lunch with friends from her parish seemed an ideal way to make a contribution to people seeking asylum in Australia.
“Aware of their enormous need and how much I have, I thought, ‘I want to do something and that’s what I can do’,” she said.
Instead of inviting a large group of people for one meal, Annette decided to host four smaller gatherings which was more manageable. And for her guests, she prepared a hearty batch of chicken and vegetable soup with bread.
“They paid for the soup and more,” she laughed.
In these difficult times for people forced to flee their countries and seek refuge elsewhere, Annette, Mary and Catherine draw solace and inspiration from their order’s founder, Archbishop Bede Polding, who called on the Sisters to imitate the charity of the Samaritan in the parable of the Good Samaritan; who was moved to care for the poor wounded man and having poured oil and water into his wounds to heal him, afterwards conveyed him to a place of security.
For more information about the Good Samaritan Refugee Support Network movie screenings, click here.
To sign the Refugee Council of Australia’s online petition, click here.