Felicity Costigan, CEO Melbourne Anglican Foundation
1 July 2022 // Sponsored
In June 2021, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) reported the total number of forcibly displaced people worldwide, grew to an astounding 82.4 million in 2020. That’s more than twice the number of people who were considered forcibly displaced a decade ago. Australia has taken in over 800,000 refugees and asylum seekers since 1945 and currently, Victoria has 21,404, asylum seekers who hold bridging visa E with work rights. As vast numbers of people continue to become homeless due to war or persecution, we in Australia have come to realise that we have a significant part to play in helping the displaced people of the world find shelter.
Most recently, Melbourne has taken in 4,000 Afghan refugees and we have seen organisations like Anglicare step up to the plate to assist with unaccompanied minors arriving.
Melbourne is home to many who are trapped in the limbo land of the temporary visa. For these people, returning to their birth country is not an option but because they arrived on our shores by boat, they will forever be effectively stateless. For members of the Anglican Farsi speaking community of Emmanuel in Dandenong, Iranian asylum seekers, Revd Hoda and Revd Kaveh know only too well, the level of desperation needed to leave their homeland and embark on a perilous journey across the seas putting their lives in the hands of ruthless people smugglers.
“A smuggler totally dominates people who seek asylum, as they know you don’t have any other options” says Revd Ameri.
“We had no idea how to get to Australia by boat, how dangerous and long the journey would be. By the time we got on the boat I was four months pregnant. We did not eat any food for 18 days. I lost 11 kilos,” Revd Ameri says.
“The storms were violent, the waves were high and smashing into the boat which was not made for the open seas. We expected the boat to break apart because of the waves. The conditions on the boat were horrible: 64 people were crowded into one fishing boat,” she says.
Facing constant harassment and certain persecution for holding to his Christian faith, Kaveh and Hoda decided to leave Iran to find a better life of peace and freedom. “Kaveh’s Father was dramatically arrested three times in Iran, and the current government had executed his grandfather. The state considered his family to be enemies. The political issues were exhausting him, and he could not bear it. It was not difficult to get out of the country because we had a passport, but it was difficult to leave a place we loved, and which we called home.” Hoda says.
They arrived in Indonesia by plane but quickly became stranded after realising they could not work there. After their money was stolen, they became homeless and were arrested three times. “During the ordeal, I just kept thinking, that one day we could drink a cup of tea without stress, fear and running. I had a little faith but lots of fear, however still that small bit of faith, with fear was used by Jesus to do a miracle,” she says.
Throughout 2021, the Melbourne Anglican Foundation have been working closely with the couple who have been instrumental in communicating to the wider Farsi speaking Melbourne community about the importance of getting vaccinated against COVID-19 and where and how they can do this. The Foundation won a Victorian Government CALD Communities grant of over $100,000 and this has enabled Kaveh and Hoda and the volunteers at their parish, to help over 10,000 people in Melbourne, it has been an enormous help to the Farsi speaking community of Melbourne, not just the Dandenong area where the Church is located.
“Since I have been in Australia, I am constantly amazed that women are able to have their own opinions and enjoy expressing them, that women are not segregated in the work-place and are allowed to worship and work together outside the home and with men,” she says.
“Even though Iranian women are just as well educated as men, they find it very hard to get employment as it is still considered the realm of the male and the female must stay at home with her family,” she says.
I will never forget the time when the Australian Navy found our boat, The first Australian Navy officer I met at the boat was wonderful. He smiled and said “Welcome to Australia”.
The Melbourne Anglican Foundation helps hundreds of refugees like Hoda and Kaveh every year, but we can only do this with the support of our generous donors. Please help us help them by donating today.
See more of Hoda and Kaveh’s story in the video below on Church Planting activities in the Anglican Diocese of Melbourne: https://youtu.be/ecLAq0yFKZA