Welcoming the stranger

The St Vincent de Paul Society has a long history of helping migrants and refugees. Catholic social teaching places a special onus on our organisation to help those who seek asylum, having fled war, persecution, injustice or intolerance.

One of a wide range of support services the St Vincent de Paul Society offers to migrants and refugees is the popular Refugee Support Service (RSS) in NSW.

RSS works with asylum seekers and refugees who are living in NSW and experiencing severe financial hardship and social isolation. The service supports people who may have been affected by torture or trauma, separated from family members, lived through the detention system, or experiencing loss of income and other common and difficult resettlement challenges.

RSS provides referral and advocacy on behalf of clients, employment support for those who have work rights, recreational and educational activities, financial and material assistance and counselling.

Whilst Vinnies runs the RSS program specifically in NSW there are very similar refugee support programs running in other states, see our Find Help section or contact Vinnies your state to find out how they can help you.

Sami’s experience living in the community without work rights

Asylum seekers live in the community with little financial or social support and therefore left vulnerable and unable to afford basic living expenses. The Inner City Case Management Team provides case management for asylum seekers. They assist families to maintain their dignity and self-respect, to live in, and become part of, the community.

Sami is just one of the many asylum seekers in Australia struggling to support herself without work rights and government support.

When Sami was referred to Vinnies she had recently lost her work rights and was quickly falling behind in her rent payments. With no family in Australia and no access to government support, Sami had nowhere to go and was under a lot of emotional stress. Due to the type of bridging visa she had it was very difficult for Sami to access emergency accommodation services. Through the Vinnies Asylum Seeker Allowance (for NSW residents), Sami received some financial assistance and was referred to temporary accommodation at Vincentian House, a Special Work of the St Vincent de Paul Society.

Sami worked closely with her case manager to address her financial, social and housing needs. At Vincentian House in Sydney, Sami participated in a range of programs including art therapy, counselling and cooking classes. Sami’s self-esteem and outlook on life improved dramatically and eventually, through partnerships with other agencies, Vincentian House was able to link Sami with longer term accommodation.

Though no longer a client of RSS, Sami continues to access Vinnies outreach services available and has created strong community links with her local church group.

Over the past year, Refugee Support Services has assisted 48 adults and 24 children with ongoing case work, financial assistance and advocacy.

It starts with a SPARK  

SPARK is an holistic family based program of the St Vincent de Paul Society NSW’s Support Services. SPARK supports newly arrived families of migrant, refugee and asylum seeker background in their settlement in South West Sydney. SPARK work in partnership with schools, other community services, and with local community members as volunteers to deliver programs.

SPARK inspires inclusive communities by creating opportunities for newly arrived and settled families to meet and build meaningful connections. The key aim is that families and children from a refugee, asylum seeker and migrant background settle well. They are able to fully participate in the community’s social, educational and economic life, and so are less vulnerable to exclusion and discrimination, social and health issues, and poverty and disadvantage.

SPARK’s work includes:

  • Providing children with educational, aspiration building and recreational programs
  • Providing parent programs, workshops and events that offer opportunities to build educational and language skills, increase social connection and provide support and referrals
  • Building the capacity of the community to support the settlement of newly arrived families. We do this by partnering with and offering training to local schools, community organisations and bilingual workers.
To watch a video about SPARK, click on the photograph
Anushri volunteers to help other newly arrived refugees

In the Community SPARKs program, new families and volunteers come together to establish networks and friendships within the school community. Bilingual workers assist parents to improve their English; understand the Australian school system; address settlement issues; and learn skills to negotiate living in a new country.

Anushri first came to a Community SPARKs session wanting to meet other parents at her child’s school and to practice her English. Meeting every week, the group discussed life in their new home; their hopes and aspirations for a better future for their children.

During this time, Anushri continued to search for work, with little success. Since arriving in Australia, she had completed a Diploma of Community Services and was keen to find a job in which she could give back to the community. SPARK worked with Anushri on resume-writing and job-seeking skills, and then suggested she join SPARK as a volunteer.

After completing her SPARK training, Anushri headed up a Parents Group herself. After some months in the volunteer role she secured employment in a community services organisation. Anushri credits her time with SPARK as the main reason behind her new found confidence that set her on the road to a brighter future.

Tell your story

Are you a refugee who has been helped by Vinnies?  Are you a Vinnies volunteer on the ground helping those who need it the most? We would love to hear from you. Contact us at the National Council office.


Read more about Vinnies work with asylum seekers and refugees

We help by providing services to asylum seekers and refugees in Australia, and by advocating to government on their behalf. Our services include providing financial and information support to migrants and refugees, for example through home visitation, food and financial help, visits to detention centres, and homework centres.

Vinnies also has dedicated migrant and refugee centres and committees in some states in Australia, which coordinate activities but regardless of where you are in Australia, Vinnies offers assistance to asylum seekers, refugees and migrants. Contact your state or territory office.

To find out more about our advocacy work read the Vinnies Refugee Policy   To see how you can help click on the Get Involved or Do Something About It sections of this website.