Sudanese refugee cuts "abominable": Sydney bishop

Outgoing Sydney Vicar for Immigration, Bishop David Cremin, has slammed a plan by new Immigration Minister Kevin Andrews to cut the intake of refugees from war-torn Sudan as "abominable".

According to the Catholic Weekly, Mr Andrews is reported to be concerned about the levels of integration in some of the Sudanese communities in Australia. He is putting a proposal to cabinet to reduce their numbers and also the general intake from the Horn of Africa.

Over the past five years Australia has taken in about 23,000 Sudanese refugees, a significant number of them through the Sudanese/Australian Catholic Committee in the Sydney archdiocesan Catholic Immigration office.

There would be no change to the total refugee numbers accepted each year, about 13,000, but "the mix" could change, the Minister says.

Bishop Cremin, a prime mover in initiating the intake of refugees from war-torn Sudan, said this affluent country was not doing all it could for the poor of the world.

"We proclaim in the anthem that we've 'boundless plains' to share, but we're becoming very niggardly about them.

"I know some of them are a bit cracked and dry at the moment, but this is a rich country doing very well, with considerably wealth - to do something like this is abominable."

Bishop Cremin's successor as the Vicar for Immigration, Fr Dominic Ceresoli, said there would be a national consultation to prepare a Church submission to put to the Minister. Coincidentally a meeting of the Sudanese community and the Immigration Vicarate was scheduled for later this month.

"Clearly this new Government plan will be a major issue," he said.

"I was worried in the new year when they changed the name of the department and dropped the word multicultural completely from its title. I feared something bad was ahead."

Fr Ceresoli criticised the tone and language of press reports of the Immigration Minister's proposals and their emphasis, he said, on several violent incidents involving Sudanese refugees.

"For goodness sake, tens of thousands of those sorts of things happen involving mainstream Australia," he said.

"Why single the Sudanese out? These are people who are on a journey of integration; many of them emerging from trauma, witnesses of the death of loved ones, desperate people uprooted from their country and their culture.

"The words one reporter used mentioned 'assimilation'. Well, that's a two way process - opening and welcoming on the part of the host community with the new arrivals making efforts to get to know the customs and structure of their new society.

"And on the part of the Sudanese in the main that is what they are doing."

The first stream of Sudanese refugees arrived after a delegation of Sudanese Catholics met Bishop Cremin, then the Episcopal Vicar for Immigration, in 2002.

Bishop Cremin proposed a fund to help bring refugees to Australia and the whole of Catholic Sydney responded generously. An appeal through The Catholic Weekly raised $270,000 as capital for a revolving air fare loan fund, which immediately enabled 225 Sudanese families to resettle in Sydney.

Refugee initiative cleans up in Melbourne's west

Meanwhile, Kairos reports that Sudanese women from a Melbourne parish, which also has a large program for Sudanese refugees, has launched a cleaning service to meet the growing need for employment among refugee women.

Holy Eucharist parish in St Albans South welcomes around 10 Sudanese refugees per month already has a regular Mass with readings in Arabic and Dinka, a local Sudanese language spoken by many refugees.

The parish's latest venture is the Dinka Domestic Cleaning Service, which offers a low-cost home-cleaning service and caters for the growing need for employment for the local Sudanese women.

Plan to cut refugee intake "abominable" (Catholic Weekly, 11/2/07)
Sudan to St Albans (Kairos, 4/2/07)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Department of Immigration
Bishop David Cremin (Sydney Archdiocese)

8 Feb 2007