Catholic communities stand with people seeking protection in COVID-19

16 April 2021

Zoe Grant, Community Organiser, JRS Australia, reflects on how Catholic communities have lived out Pope Francis’ call to welcome, protect, promote, and integrate forcibly displaced people, during the pandemic. 

COVID-19 has impacted everyone in one way or another, but for people on temporary visas it has been a particularly challenging time. I started in the role of ‘Community Organiser’ at JRS Australia early in March 2020.

My role affords me the privilege of working with leaders of goodwill, compassion, and expertise from across Australia to welcome and protect refugees, people seeking asylum, and migrants in situations of vulnerability.

I had been excited to take on the position and had plans on how I would engage and work with the community over the long term.

Only a week after I started in the role, Sydney went into lockdown. I was left wondering how we could make a difference for people seeking asylum when we couldn’t physically bring the community together. With the urgent needs rapidly emerging, I suddenly had to jump into new communities and ask for help. Which wasn’t quite how I imagined I’d be starting! So many communities responded so generously. It was beautiful to see how many parishes and schools started donating food regularly to keep people seeking asylum fed. 

Soon after, many parishioners were asking us, “We can see the great need and the impact COVID-19 is having on everyone. How else can we help?” It was really special to see that through a time of uncertainty for so many, these people wanted to spend their time making sure people seeking asylum were not left behind.

So we got to work! We brought people together who shared this desire to do more and started meeting regularly to make plans.

These community leaders saw the need to act in three key areas:

  • Emergency relief
  • Community conversations and awareness-raising in their local areas, and;
  • Engaging with their MPs for support

To achieve these goals, we worked with parish social justice groups, other NGOs, local constituents, local parishes, youth groups, the Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney, the Diocese of Parramatta. It was amazing to see the skill sets people were sharing to get actions underway.

Some parishes went all out on running a food drive and turned up with huge trailers full of food. Others recognised that the parishioners might not know a lot about refugee issues in Australia and realised that it was important for their people to understand what was happening.

From this, four groups ran public webinars sharing about the impact of COVID-19, hearing from community leaders with lived experience and sharing how people could help. 600 people joined these webinars, which showed that our wider community was standing in solidarity with people seeking asylum and cared for them.

A highlight was seeing how groups taking action snowballed into the wider community, who also joined in. One webinar was organised with ‘Social Justice around the Bay’, who did an excellent job.

I got a call a few days after the event from a school Religious Education Coordinator, Anthony who said he had been supporting JRS through food donations for years, but after hearing Zaki Haidari’s story of lived experience at the webinar (pictured: top image), he wanted to do something more.

Anthony told me on the phone, “I’m at a parish with 3000 people, how can we get involved?”

Since then Anthony and the Social Justice Group at his parish have run a webinar of their own, have reached out to their local MP and will be running a Community Conversation in a few months.

Before the October budget there was a recognition in the sector of the need for federal funding support for temporary migrants and people seeking asylum in need. We all banded together to engage key Government, Opposition, and Independent MPs in parliament and help them understand the impact of the pandemic on these peoples’ lives.

Again, a wide range of people answered the call: there were experienced advocates who brought so much wisdom and knowledge, along with some who cared deeply about this issue but had never met a politician. These people brought a valuable passion and determination.

Reflecting back on 2020, it was amazing to see how everyone came together to support people seeking asylum. It has shown me that, even in a global pandemic with so many people suffering in so many different ways, there can be so much kindness.

Onward and upward in 2021!

 

~ Zoe Grant

Community Organiser, JRS Australia

 

Read more. This article features in our latest Easter edition of LINK, the quarterly newsletter of JRS Australia. Please click here to read the full newsletter (PDF format). To stay up to date with what’s happening, please join our mailing lists: 

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Take action. To help people seeking asylum make it through the COVID crisis, please click here.