by Fr. Peter Smith
When Archbishop, Anthony Fisher OP, launched the Archbishop’s Afghan Refugee Appeal last August, we knew there was a desire within our community to help, but we had no idea the response would be so generous and so widespread. Nor did we think we would have such a profound impact on the government’s own decision making.
Eight months after the launch last August we are now able to begin reporting back to you about how those desperately needed funds are being used. And at a time when the world can seem pretty grim for so many in need, we really appreciate knowing that the Catholic community is always ready to come to their assistance.
Because the commitment was to get the support and the funds to services that directly support Afghan people and families fleeing the collapse of their homeland, one of the first recipients was the wonderful House of Welcome in Granville (HoW); a work of the Franciscan Social Services. Further funds have been sent to The Brigidine Asylum Seekers Network (Vic.) and Jesuit Refugee Services are next on the list; each organisation give direct support to Afghan Refugees. The House of Welcome is the largest housing provider of transitional accommodation for asylum seekers and refugees in NSW and the only asylum seeker specialist agency in Western Sydney. They also run employment programs through their catering social enterprise programs.
The Justice and Peace Office met with Hoorieh Hosseini, one of HoW’s social workers. We began by asking what difference the funds form the Archbishop’s appeal had made to those who come to HoW from Afghanistan.
“Can you imagine what it was like for families who had fled Afghanistan and come to Australia to find they needed support for life’s basics: for food, rent support and even medicines” said Hoorieh.
“Yes sometimes people have had very critical illnesses and the medicine is not covered by Medicare, so they really need support because these medicines are vital.”
As we all know, renting in Sydney is expensive for those even able to find somewhere to rent. For asylum seekers it is even more complex.
“They need the bond and at least two weeks rent in advance,” said Hoorieh. “So we have many clients at risk of homelessness because their rent is soon in arrears. This money means we can give them the help they need to just get back in front and keep their families safely together.”
Food relief, rental support and financial support to buy desperately needed medicines is a good start. But HoW gives more than that, Hoorieh, Miriam and the rest of the team have created a place where it is safe to be the “other”; the outsider, and safe to ask for a hand up when it’s needed.
Perhaps the even more surprising result from the Appeal and all the lobbying efforts of both Catholic and other Christian communities across Australia has been the change of heart within the federal government.
The government had agreed to let 3000 Afghan citizens into Australia after the fall of Kabul. We joined with Christian churches across Australia and said’ because the need was so great’ that the number needed to be at least 20,000 on top of the existing number of refugees given visas in Australia.
Then on Budget night we were all told the government had agreed to increase the offer of 3000 to 16,500 people. This is the result of intense lobbying from across Australia and is a result we can all be very proud of.
When Archbishop Fisher launched the appeal he said in part, “Those lucky enough to make it to Australia seeking protection will need all the support that we can give. So today I am launching the Archbishop’s Afghan Asylum Appeal and committing the resources of our Catholic schools, health and welfare agencies to support our Afghan friends when they get to Australia.”
As the number of people fleeing Afghanistan grows, we know that between all of us, and with the ongoing generosity of the Archdiocese, we will be able to offer desperately needed funds, but also the resources of our Catholic schools, health and welfare agencies. It has been a real privilege being a part of such generosity, hope and community building. Your contributions have not only saved lives, given hope and health but have helped restore dignity to these broken people. Thank you on their behalf.