New South Wales has the second largest population of asylum seekers in the community who have not been processed, who are on bridging visas and who do not have work rights.
Jesuit Refugee Service has announced at its annual Melbourne Cup Luncheon fundraiser that it will expand its Shelter Project into western Sydney – an area that is home to Australia’s most destitute asylum seeker population.
JRS Director Fr Aloysious Mowe SJ said the Parramatta-based service centre will be based in a cottage loaned by the Sisters of Mercy and will offer a wide range of services essential to asylum seekers. These include casework, financial assistance, legal aid and home visiting services.
“New South Wales has the second largest population of asylum seekers in the community who have not been processed, who are on bridging visas and who do not have work rights. According to the Red Cross, in a recent vulnerability report, by any measure of destitution in this country this is the most destitute population now in Australia, more destitute than many of the most impoverished Aboriginal Indigenous communities. That should wake us up,” said Fr Mowe.
The new project will see JRS stepping into the gap – as it does throughout the world – in a region which has very few resources for asylum seekers, said Fr Mowe.
“We, with a kind of foolishness of the dove, as we say in the New Testament, but perhaps also with the wisdom of the serpent, a wisdom that knows our supporters are generous and compassionate, are stepping into the breach.”
Fr Mowe urged supporters at the event to give generously to the project, which will open with a small number of services in December and a more comprehensive range in February.
The guest speaker at the luncheon, Burundian asylum seeker Saul*, reinforced the value of the Shelter Project while thanking JRS for housing him when he arrived in the country in August 2013.
“I found it difficult to adjust myself to the country, it was very hard to know how to start. You don’t know what to do, you don’t where to go,” he said.
“I met JRS to start the process – these people are amazing, they helped me to move forward and to discover myself. After spending more than 15 years in a [Burundian conflict] situation where you feel that nothing is going on, when you feel like anytime something bad is going to happen, it’s very hard to [believe you’re] in a place where you can have people to listen to you, to give you some time, to have some fun sometimes.”
Saul – who now describes himself as “the happiest man in the world” – is studying for a diploma in music and works as a music therapist in a nursing home. He hopes to do a degree so that he can teach music to high school students. And, not forgetting his own brush with homelessness when he arrived in Australia, he wants to work with homeless people.
“When you are somewhere where you feel that people love you, they accept you, you want to help them [in return]. I came to Australia, I had nowhere to stay and JRS, they gave me a beautiful place. Thank-you so much for what you did for me – I really love you, I love you people, I love Australia. God bless you.”