JOURNEYING WITH YOUTH
By Danusia Kaska, Xavier Social Justice Network (XSJN) Coordinator
On a cold wintry night, the Xavier College community provided welcome warmth for the soul at the annual dinner hosted by the Xavier Social Justice Network (XSJN). Held at the Kooyong Lawn Tennis Club, the former venue of the Australian Open tennis tournament, the event hosted a room full of people who came to learn, to listen and to strengthen their shared passion for social justice for refugees and people seeking asylum.
The audience heard the presentations of two passionate speakers from Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS), the Director, Tamara Domicelj, and the Head of Policy, Advocacy and Communications, Shuja Jamal. Guests at the dinner demonstrated their solidarity with displaced people through their ‘call to action’ and by supporting this event.
“A time for hope and urgent action amidst unprecedented need” was the message we heard strongly from Tamara, who spoke compellingly about the global circumstances affecting refugees and people seeking asylum and how the work at JRS Australia fits within that context. Setting the scene with the following grim statistic, that we have surpassed the global milestone of 100 million people displaced by persecution, conflict, generalised violence and human rights violations, Tamara emphasized how the “speed and scale of forced displacement is dramatically outpacing solutions for refugees”. She explained what this means for Australia in the context of challenges faced by displaced people globally; increased issues of “food insecurity, homelessness, gender-based violence, denial of access to tertiary education and complex trauma”.
We heard that whilst the new federal government in 2022 delivered some positive changes to temporary protection visas and family re-unification, there are still many refugees and asylum seekers whose prospects remain unchanged and bleak. Tamara spoke about the need to end the practice of exclusion and discriminatory policies towards people seeking asylum and those with refugee status. She spoke about Australia’s leadership role in the past with bringing the Refugee Convention into effect by being a key signatory to it, and how Australia can once again be a global leader in this space.
“Most people who have fled their homes remain displaced within their countries of origin. A small minority of the remainder find enduring protection in another country. Those left waiting often lack access to essential services, education and livelihoods, and are disproportionately exposed to the ravages of food insecurity, COVID-19 and other infectious diseases, gender-based violence, the climate emergency and multi-layered discrimination. And they are often separated from the mutual support traditionally afforded by families and communities.
“Many terrible hardships endured by people seeking asylum, refugees and migrants with precarious visa status within Australia’s jurisdiction have been generated by design. The consequences of long-term policies of exclusion and abuse remain devastating and stark. JRS’ focus upon accompanying, serving and advocating for and with people seeking asylum, refugees and migrants in vulnerable circumstances, where other supports may not be available, is proving warranted still.
“We need much faster, more predictable and far-reaching humanitarian responses, which are inclusive, above all else. Our governments, worldwide, must do so much better, in ways in which ‘we the people’ already are. All of this local engagement – these human-to-human acts – are part of a global fabric of determined goodwill which I believe is gaining strength. And all of us here are part of it.
“It is time for inclusion. As a country in partnership with others Australia can lead again in driving effective solutions to the challenges of global displacement. And we can all be part of that – leading with warmth and welcome, giving our governments licence to do the same, and taking action as we can, with heads, hearts and hands.”
The next speaker, Shuja Jamal, shared his personal story with the audience, and explained how his lived experience inspires and drives his work at JRS. He spoke about the resilience and strength of displaced people in the face of adversity, especially in this current climate which has unprecedented needs for refugees globally. We heard that the architecture of exclusion is still present in current policies, and how this needs to be eliminated so that families such as his own are not kept separated for years.
The College theme for this year, “cast out into the deep”, was a focus for the speakers, who spoke about “resilience and preparedness to try again, even when there is so much uncertainty”.
One important aspect of the XSJN Dinner supporting JRS is the “call to action” and what we can each do to embrace the cause of refugees and asylum seekers. We heard how we can start by personally reaching out and initiating conversations with people in this situation, and show our compassion and care. Volunteering through XSJN agencies supporting vulnerable and disadvantaged migrants, refugees and asylum seekers in our community is another important way to build relationships and make connections. Donations of food and money also help keep the program operating, as well as writing letters to your local MP.
We heard that the Government could listen to and recognise the expertise and content that JRS brings and work together towards the solutions that JRS proposes, such as ending the practice of exclusion and discriminatory policies towards people seeking asylum and refugee status. Examples include the exclusion of people from Jobseeker and Jobkeeper payments during the pandemic, and people who were medevac-ed back from Nauru and PNG for urgent medical treatment but who are not permitted to stay in Australia. There are also the young people who were educated and studied hard in Australia and then were told to stop studying when they turned 18 because their visa status meant that their permission to study ceased upon turning 18. There needs to be hope for people in these situations and this comes from advocacy for more inclusive and humane policies. JRS will continue to accompany, walk alongside with and work with people to support self-reliance while lasting solutions are engaged.
Thank you to everyone who attended and supported the XSJN Dinner for JRS. At moments like these, we are in solidarity with displaced people and take action as we can, making us a part of driving change and improving outcomes for these vulnerable people.