“This week we celebrate refugees and honour their strength and courage in taking what was often for them a perilous and life-threatening journey to seek safety and freedom,” Dr Palmer said.
Across the world, there are 68.5 million forcibly displaced people, including 3.7 million refugees in Asia and the Pacific. Each one is seeking the opportunity for a safe and secure life for themselves and their children.
Despite the urgent need, Dr Palmer said people seeking asylum in Australia faced added challenges as a result of policies focused on border protection, rather than solutions for people in need.
The Uniting Church has long advocated for a more compassionate response to refugees and asylum seekers.
“It is our vision that people who come to Australia seeking safety are treated fairly, that pathways exist for vulnerable people to start a new life and that they are made to feel welcome,” said Dr Palmer.
Currently, about 800 people seeking asylum in Australian remain in offshore detention in Nauru and Manus. While 300 have been approved for resettlement in the United States, there is no plan for those remaining. The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has expressed its concern for the mental health of those in prolonged detention without any clear path ahead.
Meanwhile, drastic cuts to vital services for 1200 refugees living in our community have left people without the means to buy food, pay for rent and to access vital health care, including trauma services.
Assembly Associate General Secretary Rob Floyd said the Uniting Church and its members continued to work alongside others to create better outcomes for refugees and asylum seekers.
In a recent meeting with the World Council of Churches, United Nations High Commissioner for refugees Filippo Grandi said the role of churches was “phenomenal” in helping refugees, in terms of both direct support and advocacy.
Mr Floyd thanked all those in the UCA who supported refugees, whether through advocacy, support services, as a volunteer, giving financial assistance or in prayer.
“An important way people can make a difference is to build strong relationships within their communities and with their elected representatives to create a more just and compassionate response to refugees.”
Mr Floyd recently attended the launch of a new policy plan from the University of NSW's Andrew & Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law which outlines how Australia can develop a more sustainable and humane approach to refugees going forward.
Centre Director Professor Jane McAdam said, “A successful refugee policy not only manages national borders, but also protects people who need safety.”
"Every person has a right to seek asylum. As a matter of international law people who come here in search of protection have not broken the law. Australia is actually breaking the law by not offering people protection when they are in need of it."
The theme of Refugee Week is #WithRefugees with a focus on sharing stories and sharing food together to help build connections and a better understanding of the challenges facing refugees.
WANT TO GET INVOLVED?
Here are some ideas for supporting refugees:
- Attend a Refugee Week event and meet a refugee, or watch videos of refugees sharing their stories, maybe with a group of friends or your congregation. Go to https://www.refugeeweek.org.au/
- Write a letter to or visit your local MP to share your concern about refugees. You may like to join others who are doing this.
Join others: https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/
Tips on writing or meeting your MP: https://nswact.uca.org.au/social-justice/the-social-justice-forum/give-hope-for-people-seeking-asylum/resources/
- Update your social media profile picture with this UNHCR Australia World Refugee Day #WithRefugees frame to show that you support families forced to flee their homes!
- Support organisations assisting refugees. A number of Uniting agencies are doing this work.
- Pray for refugees in your worship: https://www.unitingjustice.org.au/refugees-and-asylum-seekers/worship-resources
- Download the Lost Sheep “Jesus was a Refugee” story for kids here https://www.lostsheep.com.au/stories/jesus-was-a-refugee/