Being a Brigidine nun led Sister Brigid Arthur to put into practice Christ’s commandment to care for those in need.
What led you and Catherine Kelly to establish Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project (BASP) in 2001?
As part of the Brigidine Justice Group we became aware that there were asylum seekers detained in Maribyrnong. We began visiting and learned that a few people could be given a bridging visa if a bond was paid and the person released was looked after. We could accomodate people in a house the Brigidines owned in Albert Park near Melbourne, so BASP began.
What are the activities of BASP?
1. Practical assistance to asylum seekers—in particular helping with accommodation, legal help, learning English, establishing friendship groups, visiting detention centres, giving food.
2. Networking with other groups involved in the same sort of work.
3. Advocacy for individual asylum seekers and around issues of justice.
4. Educating and raising awareness especially by giving talks, producing a newsletter, organising discussion nights.
You have been doing this for 16 years—what drives you to keep up the energy and determination?
Helping individual people and believing that we have been able to partially break down some racism and misunderstanding in the community. Seeing people gain some hope and in many cases being able to get on with their lives makes everything worthwhile.
How do you cope with the frustration you must sometimes feel from bureaucratic attitudes?
We abhor the government’s message of deterrence which uses punishment to prevent people from getting permanent visas and being able to establish themselves safely. This is certainly frustrating and sad, but we are trying to change this attitude into a welcoming and just approach to those coming to seek protection.
What would you like to say to those who feel that there is no place for refugees in Australia?
To those who think that we do not have the opportunity or space to give protection to people, we say that Australia is a country of migrants, and many of these in the past have been refugees. They have been part of the Australia that we now enjoy. The number of asylum seekers we are talking about is very small compared to the overall number of migrants who come to Australia each year.
Are there some good news stories from the BASP you can share?
We have had some families who have reunited and are now quite settled within the community. People with jobs are now feeling fulfilled and many have continued with study. And in spite of their trauma, many others are settling well into the Australian community.
What kind of help from those reading this would you like for BASP?
At the top of the list we need everyone to see asylum seekers and refugees as ordinary human beings just like us, with the same hopes and dreams but who have been unfortunate enough to be in a trouble spot and have had to seek refuge. There are practical ways that we can all help, whether by donating money or food, or volunteering.
On a personal note, how much do you feel that this is work God has called you to do?
I believe that God is on the side of those most in need—not because they are more virtuous but because they have fewer resources at their disposal. As a Christian, I believe that God’s work involves helping the most vulnerable.
As told to Julie Houghton
For more information visit basp.org.au.