Refugee Week starts 1.5 metres apart but together

Refugee Week starts 1.5 metres apart but together

The idea of welcoming the stranger is central to Uniting. We can play host in our homes, work, place of worship, but what is the difference between hostility and hospitality when faced with a stranger within our national borders? 

Throughout the Covid crisis, Uniting has worked alongside other faith groups and civil society organisations in the Sydney Alliance to call on Federal and State governments to extend a vital safety net to everyone living in the community, regardless of their visa status. The campaign has involved a concerted effort of story collection, leadership development, writing to Members of Parliament, direct lobbying efforts and getting media attention. In May we welcomed the NSW government announcement to provide 20 million dollars in emergency assistance for international students, and recently six million dollars for all temporary visa holders (including 1.5 million specifically for people seeking asylum).

Sometimes it’s easy to forget we are all human beings with common hopes and dreams, and what is means that amongst this pandemic the most vulnerable in Australia have been identified as the most different. The Australian government said they had to draw a line on who to support, but as Carolina Gottardo, Director of JRS Australis, said-“There are more than half million women, children, and men in this country, including more than 50,000 people seeking protection, who are at serious risk of homelessness and destitution because they do not have access to any form of safety net if they lose jobs.”

Niraj came to Australia in 2019 and sought protection. Throughout the summer, Niraj volunteered for weeks to provide food, water, and other essentials to residents displaced because of the bushfires in regional NSW. In January 2020, Niraj found employment at a restaurant in regional NSW, and decided to relocate. On 25 March 2020, he was told that the restaurant was closing down indefinitely and that he would no longer be required to work. Niraj had approximately $40 in savings, but was faced with fortnightly rent bills. JRS Australia did not have money in its emergency relief budget to support Niraj, as its priority is families with young children. 

In the lead up to Refugee Week, Uniting held an online forum where we invited JRS Australia and other church members to share stories from the frontline, and describe two things people can do to assist those left behind. 

  1. We ask everyone to write to their Federal MP and ask them to ensure everyone in need has a safety net, including access to Jobseeker and Medicare, while we confront this pandemic. 
  • Drop off a food donation at a series of food bank drop off points throughout Sydney as part of a new collaboration with the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney and JRS 

The need for emergency food support has been consistently doubling every quarter since the onset of COVID alongside the same increase in weekly referrals.

This video is well worth the three minutes to describe the initiative, and is a nice one to play at church or share online.

Locations are found here and on a map.

Let’s celebrate Refugee week this year, and create a better understanding of how to live in safety and allow everyone a fair chance at a flourishing life. Check out the program and let’s work out ways to make our communities inclusive and designed to welcome the stranger.

Dee Davidian 


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