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Brisbane parishes primed to welcome Syrian refugees

Brisbane refugees

New home: Afghani refugee Asadullah Salezadah at home in Brisbane with one his daughters Narghis, 7.

THE minute former Prime Minister Tony Abbott announced Australia would accept extra refugees from Syria, Catholic bishops, priests, parishes and individuals started raising their hands to say “We’ll help”.

Archbishop Mark Coleridge was among the first, on behalf of the people of Brisbane archdiocese.

By the time Archbishop Coleridge announced last weekend the archdiocese would aim to welcome at least 100 refugee families, parishes were already rallying to the cause.

“Even yesterday (September 10) our finance committee passed a minute to ask our social justice group how practical our support could be,” Caloundra parish priest Fr Kevin Smith said.

That was the day after Mr Abbott announced a one-off humanitarian intake of 12,000 refugees from Syria and Iraq.

“Already we’ve made inquiries to see how we may be able to offer our support,” Fr Smith said.

Jubilee Parish, in Brisbane’s inner-west, is one of the communities already supporting refugees and is keen to extend its efforts.

“Whatever is needed, we’ll harness ourselves,” Kevin Smith, of the Jubilee Refugee Support Group, said.

He said the parish would have a couple of vacancies coming up in its refugee houses.

Ipswich parish priest Fr Peter Dillon said the city “has always been a place to rally around and help people in need”.

“The issue is a significant one for us and something we would like to respond to when the time comes,” he said.

“We have to look at what we have to offer in a practical and manageable way.”

Kenmore parishioner Phillip Hoy, already involved in supporting refugee families through the St Vincent de Paul Society, wants to spread the message of how manageable the task is if parishes, Vinnies and Catholic schools work together.

“It’s not that difficult to host a family,” Mr Hoy said.

He said Vinnies and the parish had helped about 10 refugee families in the past three years with rental accommodation, furniture, clothes and food, and with attendance at parish schools.

Mr Hoy said parishes and the St Vincent de Paul Society had the will and structures to continue supporting refugee families over the long term after government agencies had finished with short-term support.

He had faith parishioners would respond because it happened so often, such as at the time of the floods in Brisbane in 2011.

“We have a fairly small (Vinnies) conference, but during the floods we had 120 working,” Mr Hoy said.

“They came out of the woodwork and they were fantastic.

“If we put a message in the parish bulletin that we need beds or blankets, we get inundated.”

Afghani refugee Asadullah Salezadah, his wife and six children have come to value such generosity in Kenmore over the past seven months.

“I thank the St Vincent de Paul Society because they improve our life so much,” he said.

“Our life is better now.

“If we have a problem, the St Vincent de Paul Society help us with everything and they will help us also in the future.”

The society’s Queensland chief executive officer Peter Maher, indicating the organisation’s willingness to help, said Vinnies had an extensive network it could call into action “at very short notice”.

“We have about 9700 volunteers across Queensland – and continuing to grow – and we’re in 215 locations across the state,” Mr Maher said.

“If there’s a need, we’re out there.”

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