More than 80 people gathered at Blacktown Uniting Church to express their support for people seeking asylum and launch the 2018 Give Hope Christmas Voucher Appeal on the 15th November.
The attendees represented local Uniting Church congregations, other churches, non-government organisations and community groups. Co-organised by Parramatta Nepean presbytery and Uniting, the evening also provided information on the support needs of people seeking asylum in the community.
The participants were welcomed by Blacktown Uniting Minister, Rev. Laurel Barr and heard from the Uniting Church Synod of NSW/ACT Moderator, Rev. Simon Hansford on the Church’s history of action on this issue.
Rev. Hansford said concern for people seeking asylum is not something “we have just taken out of our back pack, it’s part of who we are.”
“It arises from our understanding of their worth as human beings made in the image of God; and from our experience of a God who offers hospitality, welcome, refuge and justice to us, and calls us to offer these to others,” said Rev. Hansford.
Jesuit Refugee Services representative, Maeve Brown and House of Welcome representative, Miriam Pellicano, both spoke of needs of people seeking asylum and the challenges their clients face every day.
Of deep concern are changes to the government’s support program- the Status Resolution Support Services (SRSS). This program offers a small amount of financial support (equivalent to 89% of Newstart), torture and trauma counselling and some case work support for people seeking asylum. Some 3700 people in NSW receive support under SRSS. However moves by the Federal government to reduce the program and change the eligibility criteria— means it is being progressively withdrawn from thousands of people across Australia, with the expectation that those of working age will be in employment.
During September and October, 750 single people had support withdrawn and families with children are the next group likely to face reassessment. Miriam and Maeve spoke of concerns that people are getting only 7-10 days’ notice of their SRSS support ending – leaving them with little or nothing to live on. They spoke of the impacts on people’s mental health, of not having money for food or medicine and of having to give up study. In the desperate search for work and money to live on people are vulnerable to exploitation through underpayment and unsafe work conditions. Those unable to find even this type of work are at risk of homelessness.
Those gathered at the forum heard of various ways they can offer practical help and many signed up to make commitments to do just that. Participants included more than 60 Uniting Church members from around 20 congregations in western Sydney. Parramatta Nepean Presbytery’s, Rev. Geoff Stevenson, who MC’d the evening commented that the high turnout “was a strong demonstration that many people in our Uniting Churches and communities in western Sydney care about people seeking asylum and want to welcome and support them.”
Uniting Advocacy Officer, Alex Hogan, launched the 2018 voucher appeal.
“Uniting Church congregations have raised over $13,000 worth in vouchers to provide much needed food and other practical goods for people seeking asylum.”
“We are so pleased to be working with the House of Welcome, Jesuit Refugee Services and the Asylum Seekers Centre to distribute the vouchers to those most in need,” said Ms Hogan.
All Uniting Church members and those in the wider community are invited to contribute to 2018 Give Hope Voucher Appeal. The need for practical support is great – and your help is very much appreciated.
To donate to the appeal, please: