Carolina Gottardo is the Director of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia. JRS is dedicated to accompanying, serving and advocating for the dignified living of people seeking asylum and refugees. This Director’s Letter appears in the Christmas 2019 edition of JRS Australia’s LINK publication.
As this is the Christmas edition of LINK, by the time you read this, it will be the holy season. But at the time of writing, I have just left *Port Moresby. Whilst there, I met the men who were in Manus Island, who have been exposed to the most harrowing conditions.
In all my life, I have never witnessed such sadness and suffering and also so much courage. Some of the men are currently in a detention centre called Bomana. One of the men told me that “everything in Bomana was torture.” As I return to Sydney, I also reflect on the difficult conditions that some women, men and children, some of them medically transferred from Nauru and Manus, face here in Australia affected by destitution and hunger as a result of the cuts of the government’s financial, casework and counselling support.
But I am always heartened when I remember our JRS Community Spaces in Westmead and Parramatta where refugees and people seeking asylum are welcomed, served and accompanied by our team. Children can play and people are part of a community.
At Christmas, we think of the holy family, and of our own families. We understand the love we feel for our dear ones is a great love. But for these men in Bomana, the men still in Manus, and in Port Moresby, this will be yet another Christmas separated from their beloved families despite having endured 7 years of cruelty, suffering and slow torture, and this fills me with such sadness and also with the drive to do something about it.
As troubling as all this is, I am heartened by people like you who have walked with JRS throughout this year so we can continue in our work. Together, I have hope that we can exit this dark chapter of Australian history. With all my heart, I thank you for this support.
I wish you and your families a Merry Christmas.
JRS Australia Director.
* In November 2019, a high profile delegation of Catholic leaders visited Port Moresby in Papua New Guinea including JRS Director, Carolina Gottardo (also Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA) Co-Convener). Carolina’s Director’s Letter appears in the Christmas 2019 edition of JRS Australia’s LINK publication.