I was able to pass on my congratulations and thanks to the Government for its timely and compassionate response.
Many of our Christian brothers and sisters from Middle Eastern diaspora churches were in the meeting and their great appreciation of the initiative was apparent.
Assyrian Christians have been suffering terribly. They are the indigenous people of Iraq and Syria – and their members within the Uniting Church have asked me to pass on their deep gratitude to the Prime Minister and the Federal Government.
For many years our Church has been a strong critic of the refugee policies of both major political parties. While we hold, of course, significant points of contention, today we congratulate the Prime Minister and his Government wholeheartedly for doing the right thing by these most vulnerable people.
The Uniting Church in Australia stands ready to support these refugees from Syria and Iraq – whether they are people of faith or none, of any ethnicity, selected according to their need without discrimination.
The National Chairperson of the Uniting Aboriginal and Islander Christian Congress Rev. Dennis Corowa has warmly greeted the Government response to this dire situation and extended his welcome as a representative of the First People of Australia.
The Christian Gospels tell us of the feeding of the 5000 when Jesus broke bread and gave hope to people who had nothing and were hungry. Where people thought there was scarcity instead there was abundance.
As Jesus said to his followers “You feed them.” That’s our challenge – to care for these people and meet their needs out of our generosity. In today’s meeting it was very evident that all those who gathered did so in the spirit of generosity.
I call on all Uniting Church members wherever they are to do whatever they can to support the resettlement efforts. Congregations and presbyteries should think about how they might mobilise to “adopt a family” and support them in their practical and human needs.
Offering help to refugees is deeply embedded in the Uniting Church’s DNA. In the 1970s I remember my own family supporting a Laotian family as they rebuilt their lives in northern Sydney. It’s a story that was repeated in many Uniting Church congregations across the country. I can tell you from personal experience it’s a wonderful day when the family you helped find their feet invites you to their home to receive their hospitality.
The Prime Minister and his Ministers stressed the need to harness offers of goodwill from the community and the development of a coordinated approach.
I urge all of us, in the weeks and months ahead, as we work across the councils and agencies of our Church to extend our hands in a coordinated way to support the new arrivals.
The UnitingCare network is ready to provide professional care and community support to the resettlement efforts in collaboration with other councils of the Church.
The Uniting Church also has significant expertise in coordination and training for chaplaincy, particularly as part of state emergency management supporting plans. We stand ready to support other denominations and faith organisations in preparing for what is likely to be a substantial increase in demands for chaplaincy.
This week our National Disaster Recovery Officer has been delivering chaplaincy training in Sydney to a group that includes a number of people of the Muslim faith who are looking to be part of disaster response chaplaincy teams in New South Wales. We are delighted to support them in any way we can to help them care for any traumatised and displaced people coming into their communities.
More broadly, we will continue to work closely with the Government, other denominations, faith and community groups to contribute to the overall response effort.
We should remember too that the need to respond to the global refugee crisis is much larger than the exercise we’re embarking upon.
Along with many of those that gathered today, I sincerely hope that a positive national response will be the dawn of a more compassionate, bipartisan humanitarian approach to people seeking asylum in Australia.
Today we give thanks to the Australian Government for giving hope to 12,000 people who are in desperate need of help.