DESPERATION AND EXASPERATION ON A VISIT TO JRS –
HOPEFULLY A WELLSPRING OF INSPIRATION
A group of eight of us from St St Canice’s KingsCross Sydney went out to JRS (Jesuit Refugee Services) at Westmead today to listen, to get our heads around the issues of how JRS implements their MIssion to ‘accompany, serve and advocate’ for Refugees.
At Westmead, JRS hosts hugely successful drop-in services, casework support, emergency relief, legal clinics, food bank, employment program and education and social support for ‘people seeking asylum’.
The range of support services are provided by a team of 90 volunteers of JRS. There’s no Federal Government funding. JRS is fully dependent on private donations.
Our first awakening is to learn that ‘refugees’ and ‘people seeking asylum’ are two distinct categories of new arrivals.
Australia has one of the best support services in the world for ‘refugees’ whom Australia chooses to be here. However, for ‘people seeking asylum’, those facing persecution and war in countries with no UNHCR office to apply for visas, and are forced to flee to a transit country before coming here to seek asylum, Australia has the most punitive policies.
Even if a person is recognised as a refugee, contrary to UN resolutions, Australia offers no permanent protection. People need to re-apply for a visa to stay every three years.
‘People seeking asylum’ are desperate. They are simply falling through the cracks into a limbo as government continues to cut whatever benefits there once were. Despite this, many of these people show a remarkable resilience. They are encouraged to become leaders and form groups amongst themselves where they can help each other.￼ One of the greatest things we can offer is to ‘journey’ with them.￼
After a community lunch, we return back to our comfortable lives in the city feeling desperate for the seeming bottomless pit that these poor people find themselves. It’s exasperating not knowing how we might change the dynamics.
Carolina Gottardo, Director of JRS Australia reminds us:
“We need to move away from model of charity to a situation where we see people as people who want to contribute. The role of JRS is to allow that to happen and enable those voices to be heard.
We need to change the dynamics of power between us and the people we are working with. We need to be ‘on the journey’, but it can’t be tokenistic. Real inclusion and real participation can only come by being ‘on the journey’ and moving it forward.
We need to continue on even with an inner feeling of restlessness, to slowly make change”.
In the New Year, we’ll have opportunities for the wider Canice community to be more involved.