“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God.” (Leviticus 19:33-34)
You’re probably familiar with the long tradition of Christian hospitality, of welcoming the stranger and feeding the hungry. Yet even as we take in the wisdom and instruction of the Bible, it can still be easy to forget to actually do simple acts of kindness to help for those in need. So where can we start? How can we extend our love to the strangers among us in a meaningful and practical way?
The smallest of gestures can make a world of difference to a single mother from Afghanistan, a young Hazara man, or a small child from Iran who has sought refuge from harm in Australia. This is Refugee Week (June 14-20), so what better time to transform those good intentions into actions?!
Kate Sharkey is Advocacy Officer at UnitingCare NSW/ACT’s Centre for Research, Innovation and Advocacy. Below, Kate shares a quick, important list of things you and your church can start doing today — to support refugees and asylum seekers!
1. Get chatting
Language can be a huge barrier that prevents refugees from feeling a sense of belonging in the community. You can facilitate conversational English classes of your own or participate in a conversation group. For example, Lane Cove Community Chaplaincy runs a group every week. You might just learn a few words in a new language yourself! For more information, click here.
Alternatively, if you speak another language, you could volunteer as an interpreter or translator. You could help refugees from many language backgrounds who are new to Australia! The Refugee Advice and Casework Service invites anyone interested in interpreting or translating to contact them. For more information, click here.
2. Be a friend
Imagine you are from an ethnic minority facing persecution in your home country. You have fled to Australia with your family in search of safety, only to feel marginalised and forever uncertain about your future. Asylum seekers often have to wait years for their refugee claims to be processed. In the interim, many feel like they’re in limbo. You can help ease this period of uncertainty through offering support and friendship. Through services such as SSI , you can connect with newly arrived refugees and take them shopping, show them the city, help them find accommodation or get to appointments. For more information, click here.
3. Speak the universal language – food!
The Welcome Dinner Project seeks to connect established Australians with newly arrived or newly settled migrants, refugees, students, minority communities or people on working visas. These pot-luck shared dinners can be a safe place to foster meaningful connections between people of diverse backgrounds. For more information, click here.
4. Join a volunteer program
Are you a whiz in the kitchen or a keen craftsperson? There are loads of volunteer programs you can take part in to bring some of the joy back into the lives of refugee families. This is particularly important for newly arrived young people who might not have role models or support networks during a vital time in their development. SSI runs a community kitchen in Auburn, as well as Sisterhood and Mateship Programs. SSI also links recently arrived asylum seekers and refugees to established community volunteer groups. You could even facilitate an activity such as music, art or knitting; anything that can contribute to a warm, welcoming social atmosphere. For more information about SSI programs, click here.
5. Raise hope by giving
If you don’t have much free time, there is always a need for basic necessities like food and toys for children. Many organisations have food banks which can be accessed by asylum seekers and refugees in times when they need it most. For more information about providing food and material support, click here.
The psychological impact of the asylum journey and mandatory detention can be lasting and damaging for children. You can bring some normality and enjoyment back into their lives by donating toys (especially ones with an educational focus).
Funds are always much needed to help provide practical, medical or legal support. You could do a fundraiser in your congregation, workplace, school or community and donate the funds to organisations working to make a difference to the lives of asylum seekers and refugees.
Here are some local organisations that can use every cent. Click the link to visit their sites and support their efforts.