SYDNEY — A plan offering free Catholic schooling for refugee children in the Sydney Archdiocese would ease the financial strain on refugee families and provide community support, supporters said.
Dan White, executive director of archdiocesan Catholic schools, announced in early April that the Catholic Education Office would create a special fund for the education of refugees.
Under the plan, eligible students would receive up to $4,000 per year for school fees, books and equipment.
"I believe that we all should share the responsibility for supporting those most in need. Anything less than that diminishes us as a nation," White said.
The program would cover as many children as there are vacancies in archdiocesan schools.
Anna Dimo, who migrated to Australia from Sudan in 2000 with her five children and three children of relatives after 11 years in an Egyptian refugee camp, welcomed the announcement. Like many newcomers, she has struggled to feed and clothe the children and put them through school while paying rent in Sydney's expensive real estate market.
"They come with nothing," she said of refugees arriving in Australia. "They have no money. They rely on sponsors and charities to help them get started."
Josephite Community Aid provided assistance to Dimo and helped her find work as a teacher's aide in a Catholic school. She now is a pastoral care worker at the St. Bakhita Center, the hub of outreach programs for Sudanese immigrants and refugees.
The tuition program would provide not just a free education but a way to connect with the Catholic community, Dimo said.
"This would be wonderful for a family. They have a lot of children and they want their children to get an education and be part of the church," she explained.
"The culture and the language in Australia, when they first come, is a big barrier to settling in and feeling secure," Dimo added. "However, they have always been part of the Catholic Church and they feel at home in the church. The Catholic faith is a significant part of their life."
In announcing the program, White called for the immediate release of all children being held in immigration detention.
"Regardless of the circumstances in which they arrived in Australia, we must never subject children to this kind of experience," he said.
The Australian Human Rights Commission recently reported several concerns for the mental health of 315 children held in the immigration detention center on Christmas Island, an Australian territory more than 1,600 miles northwest of Perth.
Another 177 children were being held in the detention center on the South Pacific island of Nauru, an offshore processing facility for those seeking asylum in Australia. The Department of Immigration and Border Protection in February said that 40 of those children were detained without an adult relative.
"As a nation, we have to do better than this," White said.
"I know it has been said by others, but surely the measure of a civilized society is how we treat the most vulnerable," he said.