Sr Brigid Arthur, an 87-year-old Brigidine nun, asylum seeker advocate and social justice activist, and one of the founders in 2001 of the Brigidine Asylum Seeker Project in Melbourne which has helped thousands of refugees has been recognised for her work with an AO (Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia) in the 2022 Queen’s Birthday Honours for “distinguished service to social welfare, particularly asylum seekers and refugees, and to Catholic education”.
And how very appropriate as we approach Refugee Week 2022 (Sunday 19th June to Saturday 25th June), which includes 20 June (World Refugee Day). The 2022 theme is ‘Healing’, a healing that promotes harmony and togetherness in our shared common humanity.
Who are the heroes advocating for refugees and asylum seekers, and working with new arrivals, in your community?
(article below originally published on June 12 in The Age by Carolyn Webb)
When Sister Brigid Arthur was a teacher at schools in Melbourne’s west, from the mid-1950s to the early 1990s, she was moved by the resilience of local immigrant families.
She saw that with help from the community, they could not just survive but thrive.
It’s something she’s seen with many of the thousands of asylum seekers she’s assisted over the past 30 years.
One young woman who came from a war-torn country in 2017 as a teenager, with little education, is now studying for a master’s degree and works in medical research, which was “an amazing turnaround”, Arthur said.
She has been regularly visiting detention centre inmates since 2000, and in 2001 she co-founded the Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project.
Thanks to donations and volunteers’ work, the project provides accommodation, food, employment, financial support and help with visa applications.
For the past 20 years, Arthur has also acted as a litigation guardian – someone appointed by a court to represent vulnerable individuals – for minors in immigration detention and in juvenile justice centres.
Recently, she assumed the role for a group of young people seeking a judgment that the former environment minister had a duty of care to young people because of the effects of climate change.
She was also a litigation guardian in cases advocating for the rights of Indigenous minors in prison.
The Brigidine Asylum Seekers Project’s motto is from the Gospel of Matthew (25:35): “I was a stranger, and you made me welcome”.
Arthur explains it: “We believe that if you’re going to really be Christian, then you must be kind to the outsiders and the vulnerable people.”
Would she ever retire? She laughs. “I’m happy to work while I can work.”
What motivates her? “A certain stubbornness, probably, that there are a lot of things wrong and while we can do something about them, we shouldn’t give up, we should do it.
“I think I’m motivated by the fact that no one of us, and no one organisation or government, has the right to set up structures and adopt policies that are really cruel and that often don’t recognise that the people who are being victimised by those structures and policies are quite vulnerable and need to be protected and not punished.”