October 2015 - Information and guidance for ACC churches wishing to get ready to offer a welcome and assistance to Syrian refugees arriving in Australia.
The escalating Syrian refugee crisis continues to make news headlines around the world and in recent weeks European countries have been gathering to discuss what they can do to assist. Several countries have committed to increasing resettlement places for Syrian refugees. On 6 September 2015 (then) Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced that Australia would consider how it could further assist Syrian refugees, including through resettlement. As a consequence, it is expected that 12,000 refugees from Syria will be resettled in Australia, starting in the near future.
Churches in our movement are aware of the recent ACCI Relief appeal for funds to provide emergency relief, counselling, migrant assistance and other services to displaced families in transit countries, in conjunction with Samaritan’s Purse. Some are now asking what they can do to get ready to help refugees arriving in Australia.
Refugees chosen by the Australian Government will be placed in various locations across the country. Past history suggests they will end up living where there are existing Middle Eastern or Syrian Christian communities, where they will feel safe, accepted and able to integrate more quickly. The Australian Department of Social Services (DSS) administers the Government’s Humanitarian Settlement Services (HSS) programme, which is aimed at supporting newly arrived refugees (generally for the first 6 to12 months). This support includes finding accommodation, initial food packages, basic household goods, English language training, assistance (including transport) with registration with Centrelink, Medicare, health services, banks and schools, and linking refugees with community programmes. Details of HSS service providers are available on the DSS website at https://www.dss.gov.au/our-responsibilities/settlement-and-multicultural-affairs/programs-policy/settlement-services/humanitarian-settlement-services-hss
What can churches do?
Christians have the opportunity to receive people in the way Jesus would. Churches can provide practical assistance to refugees by welcoming and involving those whom God brings into our midst. This can be achieved by finding and using existing networks in your local community, or starting to build them. In fact, many churches have former refugees or refugee workers in their congregations, who will be able to provide suggestions and help lead local responses. Some of the Syrians will hold to the Christian faith, but many will hold to other religions, including Muslims and Yazidis. Please find out all you can about what their religions teach, and how Christians can relate cross-culturally. It is up to us to reach out intentionally and build relationships of trust so that we can speak into the lives of these refugee men, women and children. They will feel extremely vulnerable, owing to situations they are fleeing.
There will be a need for professional trauma counselling, which HSS providers will be funded to organize. It is important not to shadow or duplicate what others are already being paid to provide, but to establish what concrete things communities of loving Christian believers can offer, that will make a lasting difference. These include motivating our congregations to open up their hearts to welcome, befriend and provide hospitality to refugees. Churches that have Arabic-speaking meetings or home groups, will naturally want to get involved. For others, it will be a new experience. Let’s go out of our way to show the love of God for those who are displaced and dispossessed, from the moment they arrive.
When we have a clearer picture about when, and where, the Syrian refugees will be arriving, we hope to be able to provide additional information and suggestions.