Refugee Week 2017: Time to Learn, to Share & to Celebrate

Participate in the annual celebration of the contribution refugees make to society. Understand more about why people seek sanctuary.

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Flickr/Peter Hindmarsh. Used under Creative Commons 2.0

Refugee Week in Australia (18 June - 24 June 2017) is an opportunity for us all to educate ourselves about how and why people become refugees, do something positive for refugees and asylum seekers and take time to experience and celebrate the rich diversity of refugee communities. This year's theme “With courage let us all combine” is taken from the National Anthem and urges us to work for unity.

Our congregational commitment to displaced persons resulted in our making available a cottage for the Shelter Project to have a Western Sydney base to support and assist Asylum Seekers.

Individual members of Parramatta Congregation are involved in advocacy and ministry with Refugees. We invited Sisters Margaret Sheppard and Marie Butcher to share with us here from their experiences.

Hopes Dashed on Rocks
My first direct encounter with people seeking asylum in Australia was as a Pastoral Worker serving in Curtin Detention Centre, WA, and on Christmas Island, ministering on behalf of the Jesuit Refugee Service.

It was a life-changing experience for me, sitting with men, women and children and listening to their gut-wrenching stories of survival. The most difficult part of my ministry was to watch the light of hope in their eyes gradually dim as they grasped an understanding of the policy directed to them as ‘boat arrivals’: ‘You will never settle in Australia’.
I continue to meet with some of these men and women as they struggle to fulfil the ever-changing demands imposed on them if they wish to receive one of the temporary visas being granted by the Department of Border Protection.

I feel very strongly about the injustice being metered out on such desperate people and have become an active member of several organisations whose aims are to provide factual information, to challenge and counter ‘fake news’, to engage hearts and minds through survival stories of asylum seekers, and to work for a return to integrity through change of harsh and unjust Government policy and legislation. My hope is that these aims are fulfilled and that we, as Australians, can rightly hold our heads high and sing “… For those who come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share”.

Margaret Sheppard rsm

Mercy Connect
For nearly three years for one morning a week I have been a volunteer for Mercy Connect, which comes under the umbrella of Mercy Works. I work with three children from Sudan who now attend a Catholic School in the Parramatta Diocese.
When I started with them the children were in Year 1, they are now in year 3. Staying with the same children as they move up through the school is one of the benefits of the program. At first they were shy and it was difficult to get a response from them. It took about six months before they felt at ease with me.
Now when I arrive at the school if they are on the playground they always come up to me to tell me their news. It has been a delight to watch them grow in confidence.

Each year has been different with in the way I work. In Year One it was literacy. Mainly hearing them read by themself. Then assisting them with their class writing activity. In Year Two, I worked with them on their Number Work and their Religion activity. Now, in Year three, I spend the first hour with one of the children hearing her read and doing the sounds with her. In the second hour I work with the other two children with their writing activity, exploring the different types of writing and vocabulary work.

I recommend the program for anyone looking for a way to volunteer their services. There is a training program before you start in a school.

-Marie Butcher rsm

Varied and wonderful stories of five refugees in Australia were filmed at Queanbeyan Multicultural/Multilingual Centre for the United Nations #Together Campaign.
Watch the results here:

Looking for a way to be involved? The Refugee Council of Australia make a number of resources available to the public who wish to join in celebrating Refugee Week.

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