2 February 2023

Churches uniquely suited to help support refugees and asylum seekers

Churches have the power to bring communities together in service to others. Photo: iStock. 

By Maya Pilbrow 

16 January 2023 

Churches can and should provide services to support newly arrived asylum seekers and established refugee communities, an expert from a refugee-oriented non-profit has said.

Embrace Refugees Australia refugee development consultant Naomi Chua, who is also a parishioner at St Thomas, Burwood, said church communities were equipped to play an important role in welcoming asylum seekers and refugees to Australia.

Ms Chua said her experience working with different levels of government and local communities had shown her that state services for refugees faced severe limitations on resources.

She said the government invariably ended up relying on charities, churches and other organisations to fill gaps in services.

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Ms Chua said her own parish of St Thomas had recently been given an opportunity to help a refugee family whose house burned down shortly before Christmas.

Fellow parishioner Melinda van der Westhuizen said many in the congregation felt compelled to help in any way they could after hearing about the fire.

Ms van der Westhuizen said parishioners were able to pool their resources and reach out to other members of the community.

“We were motivated to be practical in our actions,” she said.

She said the effort was successful, and within a few days the family, who had been evacuated from Afghanistan following the Taliban’s takeover in 2021, were able to move into a new residence furnished with donations.

“I felt honoured to engage with the family and meet the children. We were so thankful for the opportunity,” she said, adding that she would welcome the opportunity to engage further with refugees in her community.

The Reverent Megan Curlis-Gibson, vicar at St Philip’s, Deep Creek, said her parish was also grateful to have the opportunity to get involved with asylum seeker and refugee communities.

“We are a multicultural church. But we didn’t have a lot of opportunities on our doorstep to really experience first hand what it would be like to be involved in someone’s life who has experienced displacement,” she said.

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Following the influx of Afghan evacuees in 2021, Mrs Curlis-Gibson said her church was able to liase with Ms Chua and organise donations and fundraise for the recently arrived asylum seekers.

She said the Spirit of God made it especially easy for church communities to provide care for refugees.

“He makes our hearts ready to be generous to the stranger, to the person in need,” she said.

Ms Chua cited the recently launched Community Refugee Integration and Settlement Pilot as an example of the importance of community organisations in resettling refugees.

Under the CRISP scheme, the government will allow 5000 additional approved humanitarian refugees to settle in Australia if a community group sponsors their settlement.

With NAYBA, a global organisation that seeks to empower churches to engage in their communities, Ms Chua is working to implement the Welcome Home Project, which aims to find suitable churches to act as community sponsors under CRISP.

An information session with more details about how parishes can get involved with WPH will be held Saturday 4 February from 2-4pm at the Anglican Parish of St Thomas, Burwood.

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