Welcoming and supporting refugees
A few weeks ago, as I was driving to the Brisbane Airport, I was reflecting on my involvement with the refugee cause in Australia. When I arrived in 2003, the first practical work I did as a missionary in Adelaide was to collect donated furniture and deliver it to newly arrived refugee families. It was an amazing experience to be among the first faces they saw in their new country (what a bad advertising, I know!) and to connect with them in their journey of making Australia their home.
Ever since, I have tried to help in any way I could, from praying with MPs to invading their offices, from marching on the streets to declare that we want Australia to be known as a welcoming nation (we are!) and teaching my kids to pray for them as part of our calling as people of God. But I always craved for a community sponsorship program like the one that exists in Canada, and last year my prayers were answered!
Community sponsorship is a program that enables community groups, such as churches, to support and sponsor refugees in resettling and integrating into their new communities in Australia. The program is designed to complement the existing government-led resettlement efforts by engaging the community in providing practical support, accommodation, and mentoring to refugees.
The Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot (CRISP) is a specific community sponsorship program launched by the Australian government in 2019. Sadly, the pandemic slowed down the process, but it was brought back in late 2022, with the families arriving in Australia experiencing great levels of success, leading the government to expand the program, which aims to facilitate the settlement of up to 1,000 refugees over the next three years through community sponsorship arrangements. The program provides funding and support to eligible community organizations and groups to assist them in sponsoring and supporting refugees.
To get connected with the CRISP program in Australia, churches can start by researching and identifying the local organizations or groups that are eligible to participate in the program. These could be community organisations, non-profits, or charities that have a track record of working with refugees and providing settlement services. For us in Ballina, it was the Ballina Region for Refugees that responded, sending someone to lead us in a workshop and leading to the formation of our team, which has people both from our traditional congregation and from the new church plant project, Lunch with Punch. Teachers, accountants, retirees, nurses, and even a minister coming together to help, providing accommodation, language support, mentoring, or other forms of practical assistance to refugees.
Churches can also seek guidance and support from the government-funded organisations that oversee the CRISP program, such as the Settlement Services International (SSI), to help them navigate the application process and understand the requirements and expectations of the program. By participating in the CRISP program, churches can play a vital role in welcoming and supporting refugees in Australia, helping them to build new lives and communities in their new home. It is an amazing opportunity to bring flesh and blood into our prayers, backing up our advocating with the work required to make this a reality.
We finally arrived in Brisbane, just in time to receive a family from Venezuela. Five years waiting for relocation after several years of political oppression were over, and we had the privilege of saying “Welcome to Australia” as we embrace them. For the next 12 months we will help them to become part of the community, assisting them as they learn English, build their lives, engage with work and studies, and develop a new taste for Vegemite. Well, maybe not Vegemite, but they now call Australia home!
Rev Pablo Nunez is Minister of the Word at Ballina Uniting Church