It’s up to us to find a compassionate solution to refugee issues. Commit yourselves to doing 12 things for refugees over the Advent period.
1. Learn more about the issues
Before you act, make sure you have all the facts about the global refugee situation and how Australia is responding to the issue.
The UNHCR website has a number of fact sheets and personal stories which will give you a more complete picture of the situations refugees face around the world, as well as a better understanding of why they would make such dangerous journeys to find a safe place to live: www.unhcr.org
The Australian Government’s refugee program provides places for refugees applying from camps in places like Kenya, as well as refugees arriving on our shores. Details of the program can be found here: www.immi.gov.au/media/fact-sheets/60refugee.htm
The Edmund Rice Social Justice Centre has a number of helpful fact sheets, including '10 essential facts about asylum seekers', and 'Debunking the myths of asylum seekers': www.erc.org.au
2. Help create change at the government level
Our members of parliament have the responsibility to reflect the views of their constituents. Write to your local member and find out what their views are on the issue of asylum seekers, and ask what they are going to do about the issue.
You could also tweet @JuliaGillard and @AustralianLabor to share your views on the issue, and demand that the Government is more compassionate in its responses to asylum seekers.
Amnesty International also has a campaign to end indefinite detention of asylum seekers in Australia. Find out more and sign up here: www.amnesty.org.au/action/action/24781/
3. Start a conversation
The best way to begin changing people's attitudes towards asylum seekers is to get people talking about the issue.
Start some conversations with friends and family to find out where they stand on the Government's treatment of asylum seekers. Share some of the things you’ve learned about the issue.
Another way to get people thinking about the issue is via social media. Post some interesting articles on Facebook, or share them on Twitter. Show people that there are more compassionate ways of looking at the issue.
4. Donate money or needed items to support refugees
Many asylum seekers in Australia rely on community organisations to provide accommodation and support while their claims are being processed. You can help these organisations with financial or material assistance. A few of the major Catholic organisations are listed here, while other Catholic organisations like Vinnies also have programs supporting asylum seekers and refugees. Another good local organisation is the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre: www.asrc.org.au.
You can support refugees overseas through organisations like the UNHCR
Jesuit Refugee Service
and Catholic Mission
5. Listen to a refugee's story
One of the best ways to get a real insight into the plight of refugees is to listen to the personal story of someone who has fled violence or persecution in their home country. If there is a refugee organisation working in your area, you might be able to contact them and organise to have a refugee speak at your school or parish.
Alternatively, there are a number of places online where you can listen to refugees share their stories. This UK site, www.refugeestories.org, features a large number of audio stories.
Some Australian refugee stories, recorded as part of the 2011 Jesuit Lenten Series, can be heard at www.jesuitlentenseries.org.au.
6. Lend a hand
Refugees face a number of challenges in adjusting to a new environment in Australia. One way to support them is to volunteer your time to help tutor refugee children.
The Sudanese Australian Integrated Learning (SAIL) Program offers refugee tutoring opportunities in Melbourne, Sydney and Perth (www.sailprogram.org.au), the Edmund Rice Centre tutors refugees in the Melbourne suburb of St Albans, and the St Vincent de Paul Volunteer Refugee Tutoring and Community Support Program tutors children in Brisbane: www.refugeetutoring.org.
The Refugee Council of Australia has a list of other refugee organisations that take in volunteers here: http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/getinvolved/volunteer.html.
7. Write to a refugee
Living in detention is a lonely experience. You can let refugees know that they are not forgotten, and that there are people in Australia who welcome their presence, by writing them a letter in detention.
The Asylum Seekers Christmas Island group has a letter writing project, where you can send them a letter to be given to an asylum seeker on Christmas Island. Details here: asci.org.au.
Amnesty International will also pass on letters to refugees submitted via this website: www.rethinkrefugees.com.au/show-your-support/.
8. Raise awareness in your community
Help people in your community be better informed about refugee issues. You could start small with a lunch time forum at school, or hold a bigger forum for the wider school or parish community. Invite guest speakers from local refugee organisations to talk about their work, or screen a film (such as SBS’s recent program Go Back To Where You Came From). Provide time for some discussion.
Alternatively, you could write a letter to the editor of your local paper, highlighting some better ways that we as a country could be responding to the refugee issue.
9. Get creative
A lot of people have used music, poetry, art or film to share stories of refugees and raise awareness about the issue (see page 30 of the latest edition for some examples). Organise a creative workshop, or just spend some time alone, doing something creative on refugee issues.
10. Watch a film
There are some really good films out there that provide an insight into what refugees face when they are forced to flee their country, and the journeys they undertake in order to find a safe place for themselves and their families to live.
An extensive list of refugee films can be found here: www.refugeecouncil.org.au/docs/news&events/RW_Interesting_Links.pdf
11. Visit a place that supports refugees
A number of community centres provide support for refugees. These are good places to learn about some of the issues refugees face, and also find out if there are people in your area who you can help.
Contact your local government to find out if there are any centres in your area that you can visit, or get in touch with one of the nearby organisations listed here: www.refugeecouncil.org.au/getinvolved/volunteer.html
The problems facing refugees across the world are bigger than anything we can achieve through our own efforts. Through prayer, we can call on the intercession of God to help move the hearts and minds of others, including the people responsible for violence and persecution that forces people to leave their homes, the people in countries that deny refugees a safe haven, and the politicians who can create better structures to support refugees.
We can also pray that God will be with refugees in their journeys to safety.
The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office produces a prayer resource each year for Migrant and Refugee Sunday: www.acmro.catholic.org.au
Jesuit Refugee Service has an online prayer resource, 'Praying with Refugees', which features stories from refugees, prayers, videos and Gospel reflections: www.jrs.net/Prayers