Sister Josephine Rush: Outreach to Refugees

From every part of the globe we hear of refugees, internally displaced persons, asylum seekers, boat people. Their lives were quite distant from mine until I began volunteering at the Refugee Claimant Support Services.

At the Refugee Claimant Support Services (RCSS) I came face to face with real people who had suffered both physical and mental trauma before they fled their country of origin, sometimes by spending countless days hidden in the hold of a ship. They come from countries anywhere in the world where there is conflict and oppression.

I volunteer at the Refugee Claimant Support Services each week, so have come to know quite a few asylum seekers, single men, men with wives and children, all of whom fearing persecution in their countries of origin have escaped to a safe country. They come seeking asylum and protection from conflict, oppressive regimes and personal persecution. The Centre is a haven for them where they know they are accepted and can access the particular help they are in need of whether it be accommodation, food, English lessons, health care, assistance with transport or emergency relief of some other kind. In Australia until their claims are processed, refugees have few legal rights and depend largely on community and charitable organisations.

The RCSS is a non-profit community organisation that was established in Brisbane in 1995. Its mission is to assist refugee claimants while they await the decision on their application to the Federal Government for protection. The centre advertises the needs arising for the clients on a website set up to enable people to donate to various charities and I am amazed at the generosity of the very many people who are willing to support the refugees through this medium. My work is in administration—answering the phone, responding to offers of donations for the refugees and sending the thank you letters, photocopying, filing and being of assistance to some of the staff members. The Centre provides claimants with access to computers and English lessons.

I meet many of the skilled and compassionate volunteers who like myself give time in various ways. Some are involved in seeking employment opportunities or housing for the refugees, while others source grants and fundraising possibilities, as the Centre does not receive any Government funding and so relies heavily on ongoing fundraising and donations, as well as the dedication of the volunteers, to maintain its work and services. Volunteers also make sure that the Food Bank is well supplied and the clients are free to take what they need. It operates on a point system so as not to disadvantage anyone.

Initiatives have been undertaken to offer a sense of belonging to these people. One such was a CD“Scattered People”, which features the music and stories of the different countries and cultures. This CD is a money raiser for the Centre. Another initiative is a community garden that also has the potential to offer a sense of belonging to people where the opportunity to nurture their own culturally-familiar vegetables and fruit have benefits for the clients of the Centre. Our sisters gave the funding to get this project underway, and already the garden is producing results.