God’s call to welcome the refugee and the stranger makes providing support for people seeking asylum a priority for many Uniting Church congregations. In Victoria, the result is a church network that is an essential part of the Uniting Asylum Seeker Program.
People seeking asylum are some of the
most vulnerable in our community. While they wait for the outcome of their protection claims, some people have no work rights, no income or healthcare and no access to safe housing.
With the assistance of the church network, Uniting welcomes and supports people who have lost everything. Our Asylum Seeker Program provides aid, care, education and training, social activities and practical support to people while they endure the process of claiming protection
Amanda, a Uniting case worker, says the support has a huge impact on the people she works with. “I was talking to one lady and she said, ‘I can’t believe people reach into their own pockets and they support us. Another woman when talking about her donated housing said that she doesn’t have to be afraid anymore and she doesn’t have to sleep on the street.”
The church network has formed an advisory committee that meets regularly to guide their involvement, which includes providing practical and relational support for people seeking asylum, fundraising activities, consulting Uniting on how we run our programs, and providing long-term accommodation for people in 18 donated properties.
Congregation members also get creative, running pop-up op shops, sourcing musical instruments for asylum seekers to use or to sell and raise funds, sourcing household goods, and harvesting and selling honey. The Brunswick congregation is developing a community garden to grow food.
The Uniting program includes the Welcome Centre in Brunswick, which is housed in a Uniting Church hall donated rent-free with its utility bills paid. This an essential safe space for people who have been through harrowing ordeals. They can use the computers, attend an excursion or English class, ask for advice or just socialise and build friendships. The visitors regularly cook and share meals, learning about a range of cultures and cuisines from each other.
The program also runs a specialised intensive case support service where those most in need can access safe housing, Myki cards, living allowances, food parcels and material aid.
The political situation for people seeking asylum has not improved. Many people have been waiting for years for their applications to be processed, and there is no end in sight. There is much more to be done to support them.