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St Paul’s reaching out to help refugees settle into Australia

New start: Chris Miranda hands over groceries to asylum seekers.

New start: Chris Miranda hands over groceries to asylum seekers.

A SIGN at the entrance to Logan’s St Paul’s parish and school says “Welcome” in 13 languages.

It is a hub for new arrivals from every continent – those looking for a spiritual home and a place for their children to start a new education. 

They include refugee families and asylum seekers on temporary bridging visas.

“St Paul’s is the most ethnically diverse parish in Brisbane,” 70-year-old Chris Miranda, who co-ordinates parish support for the new arrivals, said.

Mr Miranda and his family migrated from Malaysia 26 years ago and he knows about the trials of settling in to a new home. 

He was a teacher, a high school guidance officer and now that he is “retired”, pouring his energy into helping refugees and asylum seekers.

“I’ve been doing voluntary work my whole life. Always organising,” he said.

“I supply them with bicycles, baby needs, household goods, furniture and food.”

On Tuesday mornings the St Paul’s parish rooms are bustling and noisy. 

Mr Miranda is busy co-ordinating English classes for a variety of asylum seekers. 

There are women from Burma, Indonesia, Afghanistan and Ethiopia. 

Today’s lesson is about naming all the parts of the body. 

In another classroom more advanced students are practising oral comprehension and try their hand writing an essay.

While the mothers study, more local volunteers provide childcare for a boisterous room of youngsters.

When the lessons are done there are snacks, and Mr Miranda begins handing out donated groceries and household goods.

There are smiles and “thank-you’s” from the appreciative mothers, and a scramble when he appears with sacks full of children’s clothes.

“It’s a precarious life, ” he said. 

“The Government is looking into their cases to see if they have a right to asylum. 

“It can be agonisingly slow. They are in limbo until their cases are determined.

“Some have been here for about four years.”

In recent years 860 asylum seekers, including boat people have been housed around Logan and nearby Slacks Creek and Woodridge.

Many were subject to the past government policy of community detention, which meant they were confined to stay in the local area. 

At the beginning of 2015, they were given working rights and some have moved further afield because local work is hard to find.

“They are taking the menial jobs that nobody wants to do – cleaning jobs, anything that is hard and tedious. It means long hours and low pay,” Mr Miranda said. “A lot move interstate because it’s easier to work there.”

Mr Miranda said he was drawn to helping asylum seekers in 2012, and a year later he founded the Refugee Association of Logan with initial funds coming from public donations. 

Since then he has partnered with the St Vincent de Paul Society, and has built up a team of volunteer teachers, carers and general helpers. 

He musters support from across Brisbane by regularly talking at schools and public meetings.

Now incorporated as a business, the association is able to apply for government grants.

Mr Miranda is also a member of BRASS – the Brisbane Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support network.

He said the most difficult part of his work was the attachment he built with asylum seekers – sometimes over the course of years – as their cases to stay in Australia were processed by the Immigration Department.

“The mental anguish they are going through. And it’s not always good news,” Mr Miranda said. 

“Especially when they get a letter or are called in by Immigration officials to say they must be deported.

“I have had the experience myself. Once I took a young man along for an Immigration Department interview. After two hours he didn’t come back out to the waiting room.

“When I inquired I found out the young man had been detained. He was taken to a detention centre, moved to Darwin, and then deported. That is common.”

Offering hope:  Women check out children’s clothes offered for refugee and asylum-seeker families at St Paul’s parish. Photo: Mark Bowling

Offering hope: Women check out children’s clothes offered for refugee and asylum-seeker families at St Paul’s parish.
Photo: Mark Bowling

St Paul’s parish also faces the challenge of welcoming about 40 new refugee families from Iraq. 

The families make up about half of the latest intake that has arrived in Brisbane during the past few months. 

“We’ll do our part in opening the doors to them,” St Paul’s parish priest Fr David Batey said.

“They really like to come to Mass and we will do our part to get them to come.”

Fr Batey said poor public transport was hindering efforts. 

The parish needs a 70-seater bus to pick up the refugees from around Logan and surrounding suburbs each Sunday morning. To assist the Refugee Association of Logan contact Chris Miranda at ral.logan.qld@gmail.com

By Mark Bowling

Catholic Church Insurance

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