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Urgent Call for Volunteers: Jesuit Refugee Service

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Children from Sydney’s Melkite community, whose families successfully sought refuge here. PHOTO: Patrick J Lee

Refugee advocates are urgently calling for volunteers and aid – both financial and food – as the COVID-19 pandemic forces asylum seekers, refugees, temporary visa holders into unemployment and crippling poverty.

Director of Jesuit Refugee Service’s Carolina Gottardo told The Catholic Weekly that there are families with young children in western Sydney now completely dependent on charities for basic supplies such as food and medical aid.

This is an emergency situation

Most are without access to social security safety nets afforded to the rest of the Australian population – such as Jobseeker or Medicare. Given the ongoing pandemic, Ms Gottardo said demand is expected to only increase and charities are already stretched thin.

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Food at Jesuit Refugee Service’s food bank – kindly donated by Catholic parishes and schools. However, due to the skyrocketing demand, more support is needed PHOTO: JRS Facebook

“This is an emergency situation. The numbers have increased so dramatically that it is hard to keep up,” she said.

“Just as an example we are going through 300 kilograms of rice per week and it is still not enough.We really need more volunteers. We will need to keep this system operating because of the uncertainty of the pandemic and it’s an enormous amount of work.”

Silvana (left) with-Deborah Absalom from CatholicCare Sydney visits Jesuit Refugee Services to lend support PHOTO: Catholic Care

Demand for JRS since March has already outstripped the level of demand for all of 2019 and Ms Gottardo said volunteers are needed as food packers, delivery dispatchers, and phone line operators.

A recent report from the Refugee Council of Australia found the unemployment rate among asylum-seekers and refugees could more than double from 19.3 per cent in the national average to 41.8 per cent by the end of this year. Its estimate was based on numbers in western Sydney.

Children belonging to Fairfield’s Syriac refugee community enjoy dinner at the parish during the Soup 4 Soul program. PHOTO: Our Lady of the Rosary

“Based on these estimates, at least 18,807 refugees and asylum-seekers on temporary visas are projected to lose their jobs in the coronavirus recession,” the report said.

Children are not eating properly

Rebecca Eckard, director of policy and research at the Refugee Council of Australia, said the resulting homelessness alone would cost state and territory governments over $180 million a year. Ms Gottardo emphasised that while urgent donations from the community are needed, proactive government policy must be enacted for the wellbeing of the Australian community.

Food is in desperate need PHOTO: Alphonsus Fok

“Multiple families who can no longer afford rent are living together to save money in cramped conditions and COVID-19 could easily spread,” said Ms Gottardo.

“Children are not eating properly – this is a systemic problem and if the Government are serious about public health then policy measures need to cover everyone in the community – not just residents – because this is endangering everyone.”

Ms Gottardo cited the resurgence of COVID-19 in Singapore as an example of how the neglect of marginalised groups in an otherwise affluent society allowed for the virus to spread out of control.

A sign directs people to a coronavirus testing site Photo: CNS, /Lindsey Wasson, Reuters

“A resurgence of COVID-19 happened in Singapore because migrant workers were neglected in public health measures. COVID-19 does not discriminate and neither should we. We need to extend support measures to cover everyone so the risk will be better controlled for all. “

Ms Gottardo nonetheless commended the support JRS has been receiving from Catholic parishes and schools. “We are extremely grateful.”

For more information on how to volunteer, donate or offer other support visit the JRS website.

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