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Refugee Week – the Year of welcome

For Refugee Week, ANDY HAMILTON SJ reflects that in time of isolation, the need for us to unite in care and outreach to people who seek protection is more important than it has ever been.

The theme of Refugee Week in 2020 is the Year of Welcome. Welcome is about generosity, opening our arms and our houses to friends and strangers, feeding the hungry and avoiding the temptation to shut the door.

This year we have celebrated the generosity of people who have kept welcoming strangers – opening their hearts, homes, cattle feed and purses to families made homeless by the Bushfires. And more recently, the generosity of health workers in Australia and elsewhere who have risked their own health to help strangers. We have seen, too, the goodness of people who from very few bricks have built laughter and friendship in local communities, and particularly befriended elderly people in nursing homes. They have opened doors in a world that has closed so many doors.

It is good to celebrate Refugee Week, during a time where the COVID-19 restrictions leave us so few opportunities to welcome refugees personally, as a Year of Welcome. We have space to remember the generosity of people who have offered food, companionship and shelter to refugees and have visited them over many years. We also remember friends who have marched, written letters, spoken to local Parliamentarians, and have made the cause of refugees their own. This week can be a time of saying thank you.

Supported by these good memories, we can reflect on whether for refugees this year has begun as a Year of Welcome. There is certainly much to be discouraged by in a time of illness, isolation and closed borders around the world. Refugees in camps and detention centres have been particularly vulnerable to epidemics. Yet Governments refuse to let them out. Nations which have previously received refugees have shut their borders to them and driven back the boats on which they came. People seeking protection in developed nations and unable to find casual work have lost the work that supports their family, and received no assistance from Governments.

In times of threat people are often tempted to see strangers as threats. They narrow the list of people about whom they care. This reaction may be natural, but if encouraged it is destructive of societies. Our response as a nation to the threat of the Coronavirus has been generous and provided support for many people in need. It has protected people from being made homeless.

As we are moving to a lifting of restrictions it is important to keep our hearts open to people who have been left without family, without country and without support, and have come to seek protection. It is time to make this year a year of welcome, and this land a welcoming land. The need for us to unite in care and outreach to people who seek protection is more important than it has ever been.