It is estimated that more than 9 million people have fled their homes since the outbreak of civil war in Syria in 2011. Many of those have sought shelter in neighbouring countries such as Jordan, Lebanon and Turkey.
Footage of families walking through Europe, desperate for a safe haven and a better life, have dominated nightly news for the past month. But the picture that galvanised the world into action was that of three-year-old Aylan Kurdi, a little boy who drowned – along with his brother and mother – when his family attempted a desperate trip across the Mediterranean Sea from Turkey to Greece.
This image and the reality it depicted put pressure on the Federal Government to announce Australia will be accepting 12,000 Syrian refugees throughout the coming months.
UCA president Stuart McMillan was one of a group of faith leaders who personally congratulated then-Prime Minister Tony Abbott on his government’s response. Mr McMillan then encouraged all Church members to consider how they might help.
“The Uniting Church in Australia stands ready to support these refugees from Syria and Iraq – whether they are people of faith or none, of any ethnicity, selected according to their need without discrimination…
“I urge all of us, in the weeks and months ahead, as we work across the councils and agencies of our Church to extend our hands in a coordinated way to support the new arrivals.”
UnitingCare national director Lin Hatfield Dodds thanked the government for listening to the Australian community.
“The UnitingCare network is ready to provide frontline care and community support to Australia’s humanitarian effort to resettle Syrian refugees,” Ms Hatfield Dodds said.
“Many of those arriving in our communities over the coming months will have experienced trauma. All will have experienced loss.”
While many from the Church community have offered practical support such as home-sharing, UnitingCare suggests this will not be viable for refugees who have suffered significant trauma and loss. Such people will require expert assistance as they settle into a new environment.
Congregations are encouraged to help in other ways, such as supporting English classes and ensuring a caring and welcoming environment for refugees.
“UnitingCare agencies are ready to bring their expertise in the provision of compassionate, practical and professional support services to people and families who arrive in our community under the expanded programs,” Ms Dodds said.
“Working together we are confident that Syrian people can rebuild their lives in the safety and freedom of Australia.”
UCA President Mr Stuart McMillan has asked people to give generously to the Uniting Church Syrian Refugee Appeal. Donations can be made online or over the telephone 1800 668 426. Cheques can be sent over to: President’s Syrian Refugee Appeal, C/o- Share PO Box 24154, Melbourne Victoria 3001