Sydney, 29 November 2011 – It was something that had never been done in Australia before: the relocation of young, unaccompanied asylum seekers from immigration detention centres to community-based detention. But when the Australian government decided to trial the relatively radical policy towards the end of last year, JRS put up its hand, and became the first agency to receive young refugees into its care.
“It was pretty exciting,” said Louise Stack, coordinator of the JRS Shelter Project. “Nobody knew what they were in for, or knew what to expect when the first young person stepped off the plane.”
Working under the direction of the Red Cross, which had been chosen to lead the programme, JRS partnered with Marist Youth Care, setting up a household that can accommodate up to eight young people who have undertaken a momentous, frightening journey, and who are being encouraged to live as normal a life as possible while they wait for the outcome of their asylum applications.
“Because of our expertise with refugees and asylum seekers, JRS can link people into health services, psychological services, legal services and provide that accompaniment and emotional support while people are going through that process,” Stack said.
“Marist Youth Care bring their expertise in working with youth. They provide live-in carers — youth workers — who do round-the-clock shifts, managing the day-to-day care of the young people, doing everything from providing food and clothing and basic needs, and making sure they get to school.”
Nine months into the program, the results speak for themselves: the house is currently occupied by five teenage boys who have developed family-like bonds with each other, said JRS caseworker Samuel Fuller.
“They may have come from a barbed wire detention facility — in a sense a prison — into what is almost a family unit. It is wonderful to see the change that they go through, and to suddenly see them integrate into the culture of the house,” he says. “It’s a very busy, chaotic house – I can’t believe how much work five boys create! But it’s very rewarding and interesting. We all sit down and have dinner when possible. We have a roster so that they can take on some responsibility, and that’s very important to them.”
And while there’s no knowing whether these boys will be allowed to make Australia their permanent home, JRS is ensuring that the time they spend in Australia is not wasted.
“These boys may or may not be allowed to stay, but a big part of our job is to give people life skills they can take with them anywhere in the world,” said Stack. “If they end up having to return to their country, hopefully their life will be better because of the experience they’ve had here.”
Catherine Marshall, JRS Australia
This article was first published in Companions magazine