Refugee advocates show ‘there is still light’

human rights morning teaThe Uniting Church honoured its refugee advocates at a special morning tea to celebrate International Human Rights Day on 10 December.

Moderator Rev Sharon Hollis and the Justice and International Mission (JIM) unit hosted the morning tea at the synod centre on Friday for supporters involved in the VicTas Uniting for Refugees network.

Ms Hollis thanked refugee supporters for their dedication, passion and resilience in difficult circumstances.

“It’s an area of public policy where we’re not having many wins, where we are regularly disappointed by the stance with nearly all of the major political parties,” she said.

“When I look around the room, I see you at rallies, at demonstrations. But I know you are the people who do the work behind the scenes, who show up to support individual refugees, who just every day commit your time and money and your heart to being a friend and a supporter of people who need welcome.

“You make me proud to be part of the Uniting Church.”

As Christmas approaches, Ms Hollis encouraged church members to take heart from the message of hope in the Christmas story.

“This is a season of thinking about life and light and you remind us that there is still light in this country around this policy,” she said.

“In Christmas I hope what the story reminds us of is that we will endure. We will not be defeated by hard-hearted governments. We will continue to be advocates and carers for the most vulnerable.”

One of the supporters at the morning tea was Beth Light from Koonung Uniting Church. The congregation regularly participates in the JIM unit’s letter-writing campaigns. Their social justice group supports a number of causes, but Ms Light feels particularly strongly about the issue of refugees.

“As Sharon was saying, they’re the most vulnerable people and mostly through no fault of their own,” she said.

“It’s just criminal to me that we don’t give them the hospitality that we have done in the past.”

morning teaCamberwell Uniting Church helps refugees through the Camberwell Asylum Seeker Support group (CASS). CASS member Margaret Watters said the group works closely with Lentara UnitingCare to offer accommodation and assistance for asylum seekers in the community.

One of the manses formerly owned by the congregation is now used by Lentara to house up to seven asylum seekers.  The congregation raises funds to help cover some of the maintenance of the manse.

“We had an auction that was a huge success. We’ve just handed $1000 worth of vouchers to Lentara, which the Highfield Road congregation contributed to,” Ms Watters said.

CASS is an ecumenical collaboration, with members from Camberwell Uniting Church, Highfield Road Uniting Church in Canterbury and St John’s Anglican Church. It has operated more than nine years and the group holds meetings every second month.

“We have an attractive way of making money, which is to turn up on a Pleasant Sunday Afternoon where we have a musical program and then high tea,” Ms Watters said.

“We generated a lot of money out of that and it’s mainly because all of the food is donated and nobody takes expenses, including the people who do the music. We’ve had a few of them now and another coming up on 26 March, so put it in your diary!”

refugee supporters at morning teaCASS also creates welcome packs for people seeking asylum. These include basic essentials such as toothbrushes, tissues and shaving cream as well as information pamphlets from the local council.

Marg White, a member of CASS, said the group writes letters to politicians to express their concerns at the government’s treatment of asylum seekers.

“A couple of years ago, we invited our local member Josh Frydenberg to meet our committee on our premises. We thought it was strategic not to go to him but to invite him to come to our church,” she said.

“He came and gave the party line so there was an element of frustration. But you can’t let that stop you from taking action.”

shelter from the storm

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