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19 June 2022
Major Karen Elkington, centre, says she is looking forward to the day when there is justice for everyone and the asylum seeker and refugee service is no longer needed.
Supporting refugees and asylum seekers
Over the coming months, Salvos Magazine will feature different people from all walks of life who are part of the varied work of the Salvos across the country. In conjunction with Refugee Week (19-25 June, which includes the United Nations World Refugee Day on 20 June) and its theme ‘Healing’, below we feature Major Karen Elkington, Manager – Asylum Seeker & Refugee Service, in Brunswick, Melbourne.
Salvos Magazine: Can you give us an overview of your role?
Karen Elkington: I ensure that our specialised service that provides, food, clothing, casework, and spiritual support to people seeking asylum in Melbourne’s north and west runs as smoothly as possible. I’m always working on a few projects and engaging with other people to develop more supportive programs and activities to help people seeking asylum and people from refugee backgrounds.
SM: What’s the first thing you do when you arrive at work (even if that’s at home!)?
KE: My team has been here working on-site throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. The first thing I do is chat with the staff one-on-one and together to see how everyone is and update them on any news. Then it’s usually setting up tables outside to put donated fruit and vegetables out the front of the building so people can select fresh food to take home to their families.
SM: What can a typical day involve for you?
KE: Meeting people at the front door and helping them to feel welcome and valued. Assisting staff and volunteers with enquiries. And then there is the never-ending stream of emails, administration tasks and meetings!
SM: What’s the most challenging part of your work?
KE: Hearing and seeing how difficult many of our people’s lives are. It’s not uncommon for our staff to call myself, or our other team members – Major Colin Elkington (chaplain) or Kevin Amiri (ministry assistant) – to listen and provide spiritual support to our clients. They will often ask us to pray with them.
SM: What’s the most rewarding part of your role?
KE: Developing new relationships and programs that further support people seeking asylum and people from refugee backgrounds. For example, we are very excited to have a specialised employment program with The Salvation Army’s Employment Plus now working to help people with work rights into employment.
SM: How has COVID-19 affected your work?
KE: We have needed to adjust with each wave of the virus and with different restrictions and lockdowns here in Melbourne. We are now enjoying seeing people back in the centre and supporting them with face-to-face interviews after supporting them over the phone and at the door for a good part of two years.
SM: Why is ending racial discrimination so important?
KE: Because everyone is made in the image of God, and everyone is valued and welcome in God’s eyes. We have a lot in common with all people if we take the time to listen to those who appear to be outwardly different to us. It enriches our lives when we share life with each other and see each other as being of equal value.
SM: How do you see your work achieving the mission of the Salvos to transform lives?
KE: Every time we ensure that we can work as flexibly as possible and explore ways in which we can say ‘yes’ to helping people’s needs more often than being restrictive in our response. This leads to people developing a relationship with us and sometimes our Lord Jesus, which can help people to journey towards hope and better future. I’m looking forward to the day when there is no injustice for people seeking asylum and our service is no longer needed.