On Tuesday 4 July, the Welcome Scroll came to Euroa and was hosted by Euroa’s Rural Australians for Refugees Group. Mayor and councillors from the Shire of Strathbogie were present, along with representatives of the Shepparton English Language Centre, Shepparton Interfaith Network and Picnic for Peace.
The Welcome Scroll is 5 metres long, features hand turned red gum handles and the signatures of representatives from over 140 Refugee Welcome Zones around the country.
The Welcome Scroll is endorsed by Refugee Welcome Councils throughout the nation – including the City of Greater Shepparton, Shire of Campaspe, City of Swan Hill and the Rural City of Mildura. The Welcome Scroll is also endorsed by the Refugee Council of Australia and Rural Australians for Refugees.
Mayor Cr Dinny Adem has signed the Welcome Scroll affirming Greater Shepparton is a Refugee Welcome Zone
The Shire of Strathbogie has included declaring Euroa a “Refugee Welcome Zone” in its council plan. Mayor Cr Amanda McClaren addressed the gathering and shared that declaring a Refugee Welcome Zone would add considerably to the multicultural strenghts of the Strathbogie Shire and build social cohesion.
Receiving the Refugee, Welcoming the Refugee
Rev. Chris Parnell of the Shepparton Interfaith Network gave one talk around the welcome we extend to refugees. All religions have strong traditions of extending hospitality to the stranger. In Hinduism, it is taught that “The Guest is God”. Reflecting on the Nobel Prize Speech by Mother Teresa, it was shared that Mother Teresa addressed indelicate and confronting material in her talk: abortion in particular. Mother Teresa concluded her talk by saying, “Give us the Child!”. Mother Teresa and her Missionaries of Charity Order had an orphanage in Calcutta, and took in many orphans and abandonded children. Extending a reflection on Mother Teresa’s charism and her words at the Nobel Prize acceptance speech in Norway, Rev. Parnell told, “If Mother Teresa were here today, she would say, “Give us the Refugee”. She would care for the Refugee and give them relief.
Taking up the theme of Welcome, the first welcome we give to Refugees is the Hand of Welcome. To extend the hand is to show there is no hostility, nor enmity. An extended hand is a hand of peace.
The next welcome we offer to Refugees is the Word of Welcome. As we enthusiastically seek to integrate refugees in our nation and get them settled with accommodation and employment, too often refugees who take up employment report they are shunned and not spoken, included in workplace chatter and converse. We must also extend the Word of Welcome in our workplaces.
Rev. Chris Parnell speaking on the different forms of welcome to refugees
The next welcome we can offer to Refugees is the Game of Welcome. We can include them in sports, games and recreation. Many come with sporting prowess and experience. The Victorian government has recently announced the “Have A Go” program which will encourage people from migrant and refugee backgrounds to get involved with their local sports clubs, be active and have a go. We are all part of the game of life, and sports provide a level playing field for people to participate, be it casual, in a scratch team, in a competition savouring the tastes of success (and defeat!) that comes with participation. Participation in teams and sports build belonging: the Game of Welcome is an essential part of the welcome to refugees.
A most important welcome is the Schools of Welcome. Rev. Parnell shared that he had recently been visiting schools in Barooga, Cobram and Tocumwal region, and both school principals and teachers expressed confidence in refugee children; when language had been mastered, it was frequently commented that refugee children had excellent personal discipline and self-management. Rev. Parnell went on to say that we strive as a nation to say RACISM – It stops with Me – the National Campaign of the Australian Human Rights Commission – and bullying was being managed in our schools to the extent of enhancing participation of refugee children. Schools of Welcome also include parents of refugees participating in school crossing duty and tuckshop duty.
There are many other forms of welcome, sharing of homes and food at the meal table was also expressed as a Welcome to Refugees. As we take up these different forms of welcome, we may all take up the spirit, the charism of Mother Teresa, and say with her, “Give us the Refugee”!
Laurie Hucker and Shah Zor of the Shepparton English Language School (SELC) gave an overview of the work of the school and took those present through a narrative prepared by students of the SELC and launched as a Book. The narrative was then read a second time as a personal narrative of peoples seeking to get away from harm and danger and taking the risk of sending one of their family across the seas in the hope of living a better life.
There followed a powerful, joint reading of the narrative with much of the emotion and fears experienced by those who come across the seas. The presentation finished at the following slide:
The final presentation was a message from two refugees who have settled in Shepparton, given by Liz Arcus of Picnic for Peace:
The Welcome Scroll, an initiative of Rural Australians for Refugees, is a register of more than 140 shire councils across Australia that have pledged their support for people seeking asylum in this country by becoming Refugee Welcome Zones. You can read more here:
The Strathbogie Shire Council has endorsed in draft the creation of the shire as an Refugee Welcome Zone; however, they were not be able to sign the Declaration on this day, July 4. Thus, Strathbogie Shire will become a Refugee Welcome Zone at some point in the near future.
Many thanks to Ruth Flaug of Euroa Rural Australians for Refugees for organising this welcome. Stay tuned for the formal announcement!
Ruth Fluhr and Mayor Cr Amanda McClaren holding the Welcome to Refugees Scroll at Euroa Third Age Club on July 4. Rural Australians for Refugee’s Jan Govett is speaking