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Sunday, 15 December 2013 13:29

Mercy house of welcome

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Asylum seekers on bridging visas now have a place of refuge, learning and enrichment at the newly-opened Mercy House of Welcome in Adelaide, where more help is needed to keep up with growing demand, particularly in teaching English as a second language. 

Amir is a school principal who fled Iran with his wife Ida and their two young boys Arshia and Meraj; Asadullah is a shy Hazara who was a tailor in Afghanistan; Ellena and her sister Sefideh are Iranian Christians who spent four months in Inverbrackie with their family before joining their brother who has gained permanent residency.

All of these people are on bridging visas which means they are unable to work or volunteer and must make do with significantly less than the Newstart unemployment benefit.

They are just a handful of asylum seekers whose lives have been made a little bit easier following the opening six weeks ago of the Mercy House of Welcome in the former St Brigid’s parish hall at Kilburn.

house of welcome croppedRun by Mercy Works (the development agency of the Sisters of Mercy in Australia and Papua New Guinea), the Mercy House offers English lessons, legal advice, assistance with paying bills, transport to appointments and general support. Already it is attracting around 20 asylum seekers every day and co-ordinator Sr Alison Roach rsm says she is struggling to keep up with the demand, particularly for English lessons.

Sr Alison, who has a background in social welfare, says the House provides a place for the asylum seekers to drop into and helps to make them feel welcome and less isolated.

“We try to meet their needs, whether it’s taking them to Foodbank to buy food or helping them to budget,” she said.

Sr Mary Symonds provides legal advice to clients, most of whom have come out of some form of detention either here or offshore and face an uncertain future.

“Some of the asylum seekers are suffering from post-traumatic stress and depression,” said Sr Alison.

“There is one man who just found out that his wife and six children had been killed in Afghanistan.”

She said local GPs, psychiatrists and dentists had been very co-operative, often providing free services, while parishioners, St Vincent de Paul Society branches and Rotarians had generously donated toys, furniture and computers.

Father Leon Czechowicz, Clearview/Kilburn parish priest, provided the hall (previously used for out of school hours care) and had been very supportive, as had Trish O’Toole, principal of St Brigid’s Catholic School, which is located across the road.

Sr Alison said she had welcomed parents to the school playgroup and facilitated children’s attendance at school.

There are about 12 volunteers helping out with English lessons at the House, including Peter and Wendy Wells, from the Norwood parish.

“We get a lot out of it ourselves,” said Peter. “It’s just a very pleasant experience – everyone is nice to each other and they help each other out in the lessons.”

“You meet whole families who have come out here on a leaky boat: it’s just the worst thing you could possibly imagine, apart from staying home and being killed.”

There is an urgent need for more volunteers, particularly those with experience teaching English as a second language, and people who can drive someone to an appointment.

For more information, contact Sr Alison (This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or +61 423 093 032).

(Photo, left to right, shows Asadullah, Amir, Idah, Sister Allison, Wendy, Ellena and Sefideh taking some time out from an English lesson)

 

This story by Jenny Brinkworth is used with permission and first appeared in the December 2013 edition of The Southern Cross, the publication of the Catholic Archdiocese of Adelaide.