Wednesday, 19 February 2020

2020 Vision for Refugees

Written by Rob Floyd, Assembly Associate General Secretary

I recently attended the annual Refugee Alternatives Conference in my capacity as Chairperson of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce.

Hosted by the Refugee Council of Australia, the event gathers advocates and organisations supporting refugees together with people with the lived experience of seeking asylum. The two-day program facilitates conversation about how Australia can do better in providing refuge and safety in our nation.

It was great to be there as part of the Uniting Church. Creating a more welcoming community and better outcomes for refugees is an important part of our vision for a just Australia.

There were many opportunities to network and learn more about the situations refugees are facing. I came away feeling a mix of anger, concern and inspiration.

Anger in that:

  • Australia continues to hold over 400 people in offshore detention. The Australian Government’s agreement with the US and some uptake by Canada has reduced the numbers, but why can’t we resolve this situation?
  • A contingent of people who came to mainland Australia under the Medevac Scheme are being held in hotel detention, where they fail to receive the medical care they need, especially related to severe trauma and mental illness.

Concern about the fact that:

  • Many people awaiting confirmation of visa status in Australia remain in destitution. Often unable or not allowed to work, they must rely on Church and other support agencies for basics needs such as food, clothing and shelter.
  • People in Australia who are awaiting visa status must pay full international fees to study. So even if they have the capacity and desire to improve their lives, we place enormous financial barriers before them.

Inspiration because:

  • More than half the presenters at the conference were former refugees. Sharing their stories and having a voice in these events empowers them and informs the solutions.
  • Advocacy continues on a new community sponsorship scheme that will allow Australians to more fairly and reasonably participate in supporting refugees coming to Australia. We heard stories of hope and transformation for both the refugees and their host communities who have participated in similar schemes in Australia and in other countries.

What can we do:

  • Continue speaking to your local Member of Parliament. Let them know that you want Australia to be a fair and welcoming place for all. Ask them to end offshore detention and recommit funds to support refugees in Australia who are currently destitute. Ask for a community sponsorship scheme that really works.
  • Join the Refugee Council’s #YearofWelcome. They’ll send you ideas and inspiration each month about how you can foster a welcoming spirit in your community.
  • Connect to one of the UCA agencies that supports refugees in Australia you could contact your Synod or Uniting / Uniting Care agencies to ask. They can use your support.
  • Connect with other community groups in your area that are working in this space.

Read more:

The Refugee Alternatives Conference was held in Brisbane from 13-14 February 2020.