Mini seminar sets the record straight on ‘real’ situation of working with refugees
Agencies and individuals in the Catholic community can play a key role in supporting newly arrived refugees, according to Edmund Rice Centre Director, Steve Bowman, who recently spoke at a Perth seminar hosted by the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Catholic Alliance. Photos: Caroline Smith
By Caroline Smith
Agencies and individuals in the Catholic community can play a key role in supporting newly arrived refugees, according to Edmund Rice Centre Director, Steve Bowman.
Speaking at a Perth seminar hosted by the Refugee and Asylum Seeker Catholic Alliance on 18 June, Mr Bowman outlined some of the resources and supports needed by people when they first arrive and explained why society as a whole can benefit from providing these.
“The importance of supporting humanitarian entrants is that they strengthen our multicultural community,” Mr Bowman said.
“It’s important to increase the confidence to contribute to shared knowledge and culture,” he said.
Despite some myths promulgated in the media and wider society, refugees did not receive over-generous benefits from Centrelink or other government agencies, Mr Bowman said – although the situation was complicated by various different visa statuses they held.
“The government refers to former refugees as humanitarian entrants and they have permanent residency here - they get the same benefits as other Australians,” he said.
“They don’t receive public housing without being on a waiting list and they don’t get private health benefits.
“There are some emails that go around, particularly around election time, that are designed to unsettle people.”
For people who had arrived by boat, who were on Temporary Protection Visas or Bridging Visas, the support was much less, with the latter relying on charity and their own communities for support in the absence of Medicare, Centrelink or permission to work.
Temporary Protection Visas were given to people who arrived by boat before 2008 and were later released into community detention, while Bridging Visas are given to people whose claims for asylum are being assessed.
Exploring some of the needs of refugees – which included food, shelter, education, language support and teaching about Australian society and culture – Mr Bowman said agencies like Communicare and the Metropolitan Migrant Resource Centre (MRC) often provided these for new arrivals, while others such as the Edmund Rice Centre provided longer-term support for people who had been in the country for six months or more.
“Our focus is education, because it’s an important means of empowering people to take their place in the community,” he said.
“With other organisations like the Association for Services to Torture and Trauma Survivors (ASeTTS), their big thing is counselling. For Centacare, it’s counselling as well, and Mercy Care helps with aspects of employment and other life-skills programs.”
Mr Bowman added that, as well as providing educational support for refugees, migrants and Indigenous Australians, the Mirrabooka-based Edmund Rice Centre also aims to bring them together with other members of the community to foster a sense of inclusiveness and sharing.
“Our vision is to help people feel included, and have an active participation and contribution to society,” he said.
He added that, while refugees should be encouraged to integrate, they could do so without losing their own culture, but instead allow it to enrich Australian society with it.
“While we want people to integrate into the community, we don’t want people to assimilate,” Mr Bowman said.
“Assimilation is denying my culture – saying that my culture’s no good. Integration is ‘I bring my culture, and enrich others’ culture’.”