Sydney, 20 November 2011 – Thomas has been one of our clients since the Sydney World Youth day 2008. In Sydney, JRS houses asylum seekers who are at risk of destitution while they undergo their refugee status determination.
When Thomas came to us he was already struggling with the demands of the refugee determination process, and life in general. We housed him near our office, a large house where we can accommodate up to 10 men at any one time. Living near our office Thomas became a very regular visitor. His capacity for cooking, cleaning and concern for the needs of other residents endeared him to us. We also noted that as time passed he was getting thinner, poorer in health and occasionally incoherent.
Over the years, JRS accompanied Thomas to his various refugee hearings, counselled him in his needs, chatted with him and befriended him. At each stage of his refugee determination process, Thomas received negative decisions; and each appeal seemed to take him further and further into a downward spiral. Throughout this struggle, we continued to enjoy Thomas’s presence and offer all the support we could to someone who was becoming an old and familiar friend.
Two months ago Thomas attempted suicide. The effect of the downward spiral we had witnessed had become too much for him. The night before, he went to evening Mass, chatted with some of the residents in his house and wrote a desperate email to all the human rights organisations he knew.
Thomas was saved by a fellow asylum seeker in his house who happened to be a doctor. The doctor recognised what was happening, gave first aid and called the ambulance. Thomas survived this attempt and is back in the cycle of claims and appeals for refugee status.
A friend in need
For JRS, it felt like on our watch, a friend, accompanied by us, had succumbed to despair. We inevitably asked ourselves questions about our care: could we have done more? Should we have seen the signs? Thomas’s house companions asked themselves the same question. Why, when chatting the night before, hadn’t he shared his despair?
Each one made his way to the hospital to visit their companion. Even those who did not a share a common language, shared a common concern for Thomas. His moments of despair reminded us that accompanying asylum seekers is a waiting game, often discouraging and filled with frustration. They wait for the decisions they want to hear and JRS rides the emotional journey with them. Our office is a barometer of strong, often unspoken emotions, a place of waiting.
Last month, JRS staff joined with theologians, ethicists and spiritual resource persons to explore how best to support our teams with concrete resources in their demanding and taxing work. In addition, JRS seeks to strengthen responses to asylum seekers and refugees and to deepen the organisation’s understanding God’s poor.
The sharing of personal stories and more profound reflection on their meaning is an important fruit of our labour at JRS, and a source of inspiration to many who support our work.