By Rebecca DiGirolamo
An Adelaide parish that knows well the hardship of settling in a new country has vowed to make life more welcoming for Australia’s newest refugees.
Tired of reading divisive headlines on Australia’s asylum seeker policy, a group of Salisbury parishioners have banded together to form the group, “Welcoming Refugees: A circle of friends”.
The group’s first meeting in July, organised by parishioners including Geraldine Hawkes, was expected to attract locals with experience in migrant services and volunteers. Instead, a group of six refugees from Burma (Myanmar) arrived seeking assistance – evidence, says Geraldine, that there is great need among refugees, especially those who have just arrived.
“Life for some of these people has been very difficult,” says Geraldine. “We are a big parish; we needed to do something.”
Since the first meeting the group has grown to include several young people, all helping to create networks of support to assist refugees with language, attending school/college/or further training, dealing with government departments, accessing emails at libraries, shopping and life skills.
The group also wants to help parishioners become more informed on the needs of refugees, pray for and welcome refugees and asylum seekers, and assist more directly in the critical first few weeks of life in Australia.
“The challenge is, Salisbury Parish describes its vision as being a welcoming community – so what more can we do that is welcoming?” says Geraldine, also executive officer of the South Australian Council of Churches.
The Salisbury Parish is one of the largest in the Adelaide Archdiocese and represents many nationalities, including a growing number of African refugees joining established migrants from the UK, Italy, Latin America and Poland.
Last month Belfast-born parishioner Gerry Moore spent time helping recent arrivals from Burma, John and his family find a school for his son after meeting through the newly-formed network.
“Having come here as a migrant from Ireland, I’ve always had empathy for people arriving in Australia,” says Gerry, who came to Adelaide as a newly wed in 1971.
Gerry says John, his sons and wife had spent years in refugee camps awaiting visas to Australia and upon arrival had found it difficult to perform basic daily tasks due to limited English.
“We really haven’t appreciated how difficult it can be for new refugees,” he says.
For more information contact Geraldine Hawkes – firstname.lastname@example.org or 8215 0300; Gerry Moore – email@example.com or 0411 263 241 or Lyn Baker – firstname.lastname@example.org.