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J4RSA forum highlights challenges for refugees


Refugees who have sought safety in Australia shared their stories at a forum convened by Justice for Refugees South Australia (J4RSA) during Refugee Week last month.

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With the theme Finding Freedom: Seeking Hope, participants listened to the firsthand stories of people who have fled persecution based on their identity, beliefs or origins.

Refugees recounted facing formidable challenges including Australia’s stringent refugee policies and the toll of living in limbo for many years awaiting permanency in their adopted country.

They also shared how ordinary Australian families, neighbours and community groups provided crucial practical, financial, and emotional support during times of extreme stress and uncertainty.

Sr Meredith Evans rsm, South Australia’s 2024 Senior Australian of the Year, introduced the work being done by local Circles of Friends and the Young Mercy Links group to support and welcome asylum seekers and refugees during the difficult process of establishing themselves in Australia. This includes helping asylum seekers to find private rental accommodation and sourcing furniture, household items, clothing, and toys for children.

Speakers raised concerns about the increasingly hostile tone in the national media towards refugees and the hardening political discourse on the issue, which advocates identified as a major obstacle to refugees being able to rebuild their lives with dignity and hope in Australia.

Australian Greens Senator Sarah Hanson-Young, a special guest speaker at the event, provided insights into the current political landscape, particularly regarding the upcoming Senate deliberations on the Migration Amendment (Removal and Other Measures) Bill 2024.

She emphasised her party’s opposition to the bill, citing concerns over granting unprecedented powers to the Minister, potential criminalisation of asylum seekers and risks of breaching Australia’s international legal obligations.

Senator Hanson-Young encouraged advocacy groups like J4RSA to continue their efforts and underscored the impact of community organisations in shaping public opinion and policy through persistence and creativity.

In response, J4RSA has actively lobbied against the bill through letters to senators and members of the House of Representatives, as well as in its submission to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee.

The group has urged all senators to reject the bill when it comes up for consideration.

The forum concluded with discussions on actionable steps individuals and groups can take to foster a more compassionate and constructive dialogue on refugee issues, stepping up advocacy work to change Government policy so that it upholds human rights and promotes social cohesion in Australia.

J4RSA is a non-partisan advocacy group in South Australia comprising individuals, community organisations, and church groups, works to promote fair treatment for refugees and asylum seekers.

– Chris Keating is chair of J4RSA


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