Migrant and refugee trauma increases need for community support

The Parish of Sandy Bay fell silent during Mass on the World Day of Migrants and Refugees last month, as Fr Shammi Perera shared the harrowing tale of one of his parishioners.

Hannah*, originally from Baghdad, fled to Tasmania to escape persecution.

“The week before this Mass, her father was shot dead by Islamic extremists back in Iraq,” Fr Shammi told the congregation.

“The amount of trauma she has faced is enormous. She lost her mother three months ago to cancer, her grandfather one month ago and now her father.”

Fr Shammi said Hannah is experiencing intense distress as she does not know what will happen to her brother, who is now alone in Baghdad.

“Introducing her allows the community to acknowledge the amount of suffering and trauma that migrants can go through, especially the humanitarian entrants who have lived through persecution,” he said.

“And that is just one story.”

Fr Shammi said the theme of this year’s day – ‘Towards an Ever Wider We’ – invited everyone to put their prejudices behind them when migrants and asylum seekers arrived at their door.

“Recognise the face of Christ in each one of them,” he urged.

“Consider them as part of the mystical body of Christ, because they belong to the ‘wider we’, and that is the message we need to get out there.”

Fr Shammi said the Church’s teachings on migrants and refugees had always been very clear.

“Christ God, himself, when he became a man underwent the experience of being a migrant and especially an asylum seeker fleeing the persecution of King Herod,” he said.

“Christ our brother identifies what it means to live outside your own land, and what it means to be alienated from your own community and culture and your own background. He knows the anxieties and the traumas that migrants go through.

“We have, therefore, a God who journeys with us in these issues.”

Fr Shammi said there was a critical need to establish legal services to help migrants and refugees in Tasmania.

“That is my next target in my role as Chaplain for Migrants and Refugees,” he explained.

“Now for Hannah, she needs help to get her brother here. It is extremely difficult for us to help the true refugees who are stuck in persecuted regions, who are really traumatised, as we don’t have much funds to pay the migrant lawyers and help them and their families.

“For the time being, that is important. It is a challenge as much as a need.”

While there have not been many humanitarian entrants to the state since the pandemic hit our shores, Fr Shammi noted there was a large community of migrant students and their families without any help.

“They are a bit of an ignored group,” he said.

“They face a lot of challenges and with COVID, some of them don’t have jobs or vehicles even to get their children to school. They don’t come to the surface of society to ask for help for different reasons – often their own dignity and identity. They don’t want to ask for help, but they are a group that really suffers in our community.”

Fr Shammi called for volunteers to assist with pastoral care.

“If there is anyone who would like to come forward – even two or three people I would gladly accept,” he said.

“We want to establish a stronger group of volunteers who could come and help in my approach to pastoral visits. It is especially important for migrants to feel a sense of belonging in this community.”

*Name has been changed to protect her identity.

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