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Refugee Week puts human dignity back in focus


Thawng (Henry) Uk Thang Conzo, with MercyCare staff members Jasvita Patel and Bev Kreibich. In celebration of Refugee Week, Perth Archbishop Timothy Costelloe has issued a statement urging Christians to recognise Christ in the stranger and the needy and to lend a welcoming hand to those who have nowhere to go. PHOTO: Supplied

By Marco Ceccarelli

In the midst of yet another period of news stories that has seen asylum seekers at the centre of political debates in Australia, the Archdiocese of Perth has focused its attention on 2015 Refugee Week (14–20 June) in an effort to raise awareness about issues affecting refugees.

Archbishop Timothy Costelloe led the charge this week with a statement urging Christians to recognise Christ in the stranger and the needy, and to lend a welcoming hand to those who have nowhere to go.

Failing to help the neediest in our community, Archbishop Costelloe emphasised, would be “an attack on life”.

“In our Catholic understanding, the service of charity to our neighbour and our commitment to the Word of God and the Sacraments are two sides of the one coin,” the Archbishop said.

“Together, they constitute our response to the ‘greatest commandment’ which is to love God wholeheartedly and to love our neighbour as we love ourselves.”

He went on to say that refugees “must not be demonised or robbed of their human dignity. Nor must they be abandoned or rejected. They share a common humanity with us. They are equally children of God.”

An agency that is responding to the Archbishop’s call to aid those in need is MercyCare, Western Australia’s leading Catholic provider of aged care, family, health and community.

In light of Refugee Week, MercyCare recently communicated the range of services it provides to assist vulnerable groups, including newly-arrived humanitarian and refugee entrants, to stay connected economically and socially to the community they settle into.

MercyCare also reported on the story of a Chin family living in the Perth suburb of Balga since their arrival from Burma in 2010 on refugee visas.

The Chin people, who number roughly 1.5 million and live mainly in the hilly West of Burma near the Indian border, are a persecuted minority group.

“We first heard about MercyCare from our community. There is a big Chin community in Perth and lots of our friends live nearby so they suggested we go there,” said Thawng (Henry) Uk Thang Conzo who, with his wife Khim and their three children, has accessed many support services in their transition to Australia.

“MercyCare have helped us in lots of ways. They helped us to find a GP when we first arrived and we have also had training for our citizenship class because we are going to apply for Australian citizenship,” Henry added.

Thanks to the support received from MercyCare, the Conzo family has settled into Australian life and is taking full advantage of their new opportunities in Perth. Both Henry and Khim work full time, their eldest daughter studies and manages to work part time, while the younger children attend school.

Executive Director of Health and Community Services, Mick Geaney, stated that Refugee Week draws attention to the contributions of Perth’s diverse community of refugees.

“It is challenging enough moving to another country and creating a new life there, let alone when you have been forced to flee your own homeland, which is the case for many of the families who are humanitarian migrants or asylum seekers with whom we are privileged to work through our Mirrabooka service,” Mr Geaney said.

“MercyCare works with some of the most vulnerable people in the community as they transition to life in Australia. It is our mission, through this work, to help break cycles of significant disadvantage by creating positive health and wellbeing, opportunities to learn, work and live full lives while being connected to the wider community.”

At a national level, The Refugee Council of Australia used a verse from the Australian national anthem, “With courage let us all combine”, as its theme for this year’s Refugee Week.

“Refugee Week is an opportunity to recognise the great contributions that so many refugees have made to the vibrant and diverse Australia that we all love,” said The Refugee Council’s CEO, Paul Power.

“This year, we are calling on all Australians to reflect on the great benefits that refugees have brought to Australia and to encourage our government to stop the harm of our asylum seekers policies.

“It’s time Australia strengthened our contribution to sharing the responsibility locally, regionally and globally to develop a sustainable solution to the great challenges we face with unprecedented human displacement,” Mr Power said.

These shared visions of inclusion and hospitality were at the heart of Pope Francis’ Message for the 2015 World Day of Migrants and Refugees, held on 18 January 2015.

Church Without Frontiers, Mother to All was the theme for the day and was repeatedly picked up by the Pope who stated that a Church without frontiers “spreads throughout the world a culture of acceptance and solidarity, in which no one is seen as useless, out of place or disposable”.

“When living out this motherhood effectively, the Christian community nourishes, guides and indicates the way, accompanying all with patience, and drawing close to them through prayer and works of mercy,” the Pope said.

Pope Francis went on to direct a clear message to all Christians when he stressed that migration movements “call us to deepen and strengthen the values needed to guarantee peaceful coexistence between persons and cultures”.

“Achieving mere tolerance that respects diversity and ways of sharing between different backgrounds and cultures is not sufficient. This is precisely where the Church contributes to overcoming frontiers and encouraging the moving away from attitudes of defensiveness and fear, indifference and marginalisation… towards attitudes based on a culture of encounter, the only culture capable of building a better, more just and fraternal world."

To find out more about Refugee Week and events being held throughout the country, visit