Each year, “Refugee Week” comes with the opportunity to celebrate the contribution that people seeking asylum and refugees make to this country. This year, the JRS community came together in Parramatta Park for a Saturday “Refugee Week Picnic” to celebrate the contributions, talents, resilience and humanity of refugees and people seeking asylum.
Our JRS Community Engagement Coordinator, Joanna (“Jo”) Brooke was the chief organiser of the event. Jo explained the logistics of hosting the picnic and bringing everyone together. “The event was a collaboration of many different groups – parishes from across Sydney as well as a few schools ran various aspects of the event like the barbeque, a drinks station and kids craft activities.
“A number of fantastic organisations, including Information Cultural Exchange (“ICE;” a creative arts organisation in Parramatta) and Cricket NSW ran activities on the day too. There were a bunch of volunteers assisting; a combination of JRS staff, clients, JRS-volunteers, various parish members, school students and friends of community members that leant in to make the day happen.”
Celebrating Refugee Week is particularly important in today’s current climate. Recent years have been hard for the refugee sector. As our JRS Australia Director, Carolina Gottardo, noted, Australia’s “asylum and refugee policy is increasingly punitive.” In our recently released JRS Australia Annual Report 2018, Carolina explained the political and culture climate in which JRS Australia must operate:
“The government has continued promoting a forced destitution agenda marked by the draconian cuts in Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS), a basic minimum safety net for the most vulnerable people seeking asylum. The effects of these policies translate to increased hunger and destitution. For example, demand for our Foodbank has increased by 50 percent.”
“Caseworkers often mention that they had not previously seen the complexity of cases that we are now witnessing, and the alarming levels of need.” Many people that JRS works with have been transferred from Manus Island and Nauru on medical grounds “after years of being subjected to inhumane treatment and living in limbo,” writes Carolina.
Consequently, our JRS Caseworkers, Employment and Community Development Coordinators, as well as other members of the JRS community who have direct contact with people seeking asylum and refugees, have been witnessed cases of a very extreme and traumatic nature.
“In a sector where we walk with people who face a great deal of hardship, an event like this is important”, says Jo. “We are choosing to celebrate, choosing to highlight the positives, to highlight strengths, to laugh, to share, to be grateful. I believe this is important and I also believe this is healing. Not just for clients and people with lived experience but for all those groups and individuals who care and support them. Everyone needs a day like this.”
“A day like this is a first contact point for many people, to build relationships or build confidence in being a part of supporting people seeking asylum and refugees.”
Jo wanted as many sections of the community as possible so that people feel a sense of ownership and contribution to the occasion. JRS was delighted to see so many members of the community, including partner parishes, and organisations like Cricket NSW and ICE, choosing to contribute directly to an event that celebrates the contribution of refugees and people seeking asylum to Australia.
A JRS community member named Leila said “this is how it should always be, people from all over coming together and having fun.” When asked if he was enjoying the day, a man responded “yes very much, I haven’t played frisbee in 25 years.”
The day was a success. As a community, we enjoyed one another’s company with laughter, dancing, art, food and sunshine – “something everyone needs and deserves,” says Jo. Our JRS Employment Coordinator, Leonie said, “it was just such a beautiful day, perfect weather conducive to picnicing, laying around in the sun – something we don’t get to do much, it was amazing to see people dancing in the park, all together. It felt like freedom, it just felt – safe, fun, happy, warm; free.”
When asked what Jo’s own favourite parts of the day included, she had a few highlights “the spontaneous dance floor, lounging on picnic rugs at the end of the day with a group of women after the event was over, the sun beginning to set, and none of us feeling like we wanted the day to be over” and last, but not least, “so very many selfies!”
JRS thanks all the various groups that came to support us. As is the case with all of our projects — from our direct casework and employment support for people seeking asylum over to advocating for better policies at local, regional, national and international scales, right over to facilitating community events such as this Refugee Week Picnic — we really could not do any of the work without you. The multifaceted and generous ways that people support the work of our organisation; from donating directly, to helping out with picnics, to knitting blankets; means the world to all of us here at JRS Australia and to the people we serve. It ultimately allows for the continuation of our accompaniment, services and advocacy for people seeking asylum, refugees and other forcibly displaced people.
Be part of it.
JRS works with parishes, schools, individuals and community groups to advocate for refugees and people seeking asylum.
To get involved please see contact details below.
Individuals/parishes/community groups: firstname.lastname@example.org
Schools/Jesuit networks: email@example.com
We thank you for walking with us.