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By Our Own Correspondent with Fr Bernie Graham
Youth Ministry delegate AUL


20 June 2016 -- Yesterday, Pope Francis recalled in his midday Angelus greeting that Monday is World Refugee Day, sponsored by the United Nations, with the theme '#With Refugees'. He emphasized that refugees "are people just like us", but that war 'has taken from them their houses, work, relatives and friends... Their stories and their faces call us to renew our efforts to build peace and justice', Francis said, adding: 'We want to be with them, encounter them, receive them, so as to become builders of peace, according to the will of God."


The number of people displaced by conflict is at the highest level ever recorded, the UN refugee agency says. It estimates that 65.3m people were either refugees, asylum seekers or internally displaced at the end of 2015, an increase of 5m in a year. This represents one in every 113 people on the planet, the UN agency says. Meanwhile, the UN refugee chief says a worrying "climate of xenophobia" has taken hold in Europe as it struggles to cope with the migrant crisis. The influx of people, the biggest since World War Two, has led to greater support for far-right groups and controversial anti-immigration policies. In its annual report marking World Refugee Day, the UN said it was the first time the number of refugees worldwide had passed the 60m mark. Over half of the total comes from just three countries: Syria, Afghanistan and Somalia.


Among the millions of refugees around the world, also in some Salesian communities of our region we are welcoming and journeying together with refugees from different war torn countries. Australia - Pacific Province (AUL) is offering a good example:

    "The issue of Asylum Seekers and Refugees is very much on the political and social agenda in Australia. And, as you would be aware, our government has a very restrictive approach to these matters with policies such as ‘turn back the boats’, ‘off-shore detention centres’, off-shore processing’, ‘resettlement in other (usually much poorer) countries, ‘on-shore detention’, work restrictions etc. There are many different agencies trying to respond to the various situations and needs, including Church agencies.


    As a Salesian Province, we do not have any coordinated programs or initiatives that we have taken up. However, there are many different responses being made at local level within our existing Salesian settings.The issue of Asylum Seekers and Refugees is very much on the political and social agenda in Australia. And, as you would be aware, our government has a very restrictive approach to these matters with policies such as ‘turn back the boats’, ‘off-shore detention centres’, off-shore processing’, ‘resettlement in other (usually much poorer) countries, ‘on-shore detention’, work restrictions etc.


    There are many different agencies trying to respond to the various situations and needs, including Church agencies.


    As a Salesian Province, we do not have any coordinated programs or initiatives that we have taken up. However, there are many different responses being made at local level within our existing Salesian settings. All these initiative have been endorsed and encouraged in our recent Provincial Chapter 2016. Here are some examples:


    Refugee Fund

    As a Province he have set up a small fund, into which Salesian Communities can contribute by donation, and from which local Salesian communities can ask for financial assistance for any type of activity or initiative they may be undertaking.


    Hostel Accommodation

    One of our communities conducts a hostel for University Students (40 places). At present 5 or 6 of these place are being reserved for refugees/asylum seekers at virtually no cost.


    Salesian Schools

    Almost all of our 8 Salesian schools in Australia have some students who are from refugee/asylum seeker families. These are all supported financially (reduced or no fees, provision of resources and uniforms, bursaries etc) by the schools.


    Salesian Parishes

    A number of the parishes administered by the Salesians also have refugee/asylum seeker families. Again some of the ways of responding to these include provision of temporary housing, provision of food, clothing and household goods, spiritual and pastoral accompaniment etc.


    Youth Initiatives

    Don Bosco Camp in Melbourne invites children of refugee/asylum seeker families to be part of the Summer Camp Programs, at little or no cost. The camp has also begun organizing weekend activities for families associated with a local aid agency. Our Youth Centres provide recreation and other activities for these children. Some members of our Salesian Youth Ministry team and students from our schools have been making occasional visits to Detention Centres to provide activities, recreational opportunities and tutoring for the youth there.


    Chaplaincy

    In our province we have a number of Salesians who work as ‘migrant chaplains’ who have and continue to minister to these communities, some of which are refugees/asylum seekers. The support is not only spiritual but also in counselling, social representation and practical assistance. These refugee/asylum seeker communities include Vietnamese, Burmese, and Pacific Islander."





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