Vol 39 No 4
WELCOME THE STRANGER
HOLY, OR SAINTLY?
MINISTRY APPRAISAL: ONE PRIEST'S EXPERIENCE
THE RESURRECTION OF THE BODY: SOME REFLECTIONS ON THE BIBLICAL DATA
VOICES OF THE WOMEN
THE ABUSE OF MINORS: A CINEMA RESOURCE
NEW RELIGIOUS BOOKS BY AUSTRALASIAN AUTHORS
Reflections shared at a parish gathering on Refugees and Migrants Sunday
FRANCIS MANSOUR LCM
TWITH THE CELEBRATION of Refugee and Migrant Sunday we remember and
celebrate our own roots: 98% of us are either newly arrived or have ancestors
who came to this country as migrants or as refugees. Refugee and Migrant
Sunday is a time to pause and give thanks for who we are; for the unified
yet diverse multicultural community we have become. It is a time to remember
that our forebears, or we ourselves, came seeking freedom, security a
better way of lifethe same values espoused by those coming today.
The wars, poverty, political and religious persecution and famines are
just as devastating in this era. Today is also a time to reflect on our
attitudes towards migrants and especially refugees arriving in our country.
Certainly the issues relating to Asylum seekers and Refugees in our community
are very divisive and at times emotional. So where are we in the debate?
There are twelve million refugees in the world today; twenty million including
those internally displaced. Seven million of these people have been in
refugee camps for more than ten years. They are 'warehoused' (notice the
faceless terminology) with little chance of integration, repatriation
or resettlement in another country.
Each year Australia accepts 13,000 refugees. The majority are processed
Because Australia is a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees,
people can commence the process to be recognised as refugees once they
are already in Australia if they apply for a Protection Visa. Depending
on their document status upon arrival, these 'unauthorised arrivals'not
illegalswill either be sent to indefinite mandatory detention or
remain in the community while their application is processed.
Today I want to highlight these two aspects of government policy.
Indefinite Mandatory Detention
There has been much public debate recently concerning our detention policy
and the extraordinarily detrimental costs incurred by those who are incarcerated.
Recently, I spent time with a family released from Villawood detention
centre after nearly three years. Their three-year-old childborn
just prior to the family's detentionis very small for his age; sucks
a dummy most of the time and has very limited speech. Sadly, one of the
few words he has learnt to say is 'key'. Having become so inculturated
by the the jail-like routine of Villawood, he screams and refuses to move
from one room to another in their small unit without a key and won't leave
the unit until a key is produced. One can only imagine how scarred this
child is, and how other detainees must be suffering after their experiences
Following the recent Petro Georgiou interventions, some improvements have
been made to mandatory detention policies. About four weeks ago, families
who were previously living in detention were released into the community,
and asylum seekers who have been detained for more than two years are
having their cases independently reviewed.
Unfortunately though, Australia remains the only Western country with
a policy of indefinite mandatory detention. One wonders why we need to
persist with this policy as community models of detention do work. Why
release only the families? Why not release all asylum seekers into the
community after security, identity and health checks are completed? Somehow
our fear and insecurity have become disproportionate and allowed us to
perpetrate injustices on innocent peopleour brothers and sisterswho
have a right to seek asylum from us. Indeed, we have a concurrent right
to live securely and protect our borders. Improved, and very costly, border
protection has resulted in a decrease in new arrivals. Only one boat carrying
fifty-four people has arrived on our shores since the Tampa crisis of
2001, and in 2003-2004 only 2% of unauthorised air arrivalsless
than one hundred peoplesought protection. At the beginning of 2005,
there were around 300 asylum seekers in mainland detention centrescertainly
not a huge number considering the global situation. Bearing in mind that
90% of those detained are eventually given Permanent Protection, there
surely must be another way.
Community Based Asylum Seekers
Among the most disadvantaged, the poorest and the most dispossessed people
in our society today are the group of asylum seekers living in the community
with Bridging Visa E or the like. Many of them have been released from
detention to await the processing of their claim.
This group of about 8,000 people are denied the right to work, income
support of any kind and Medicare access. If they are not living with relatives
or members of their community, this group of people become reliant upon
various charities, churches or concerned individuals. If they are fortunate,
after housing has been provided, they may have $60-$100 per week for living
expenses. They are often hidden and isolated in the community.
Dependence on community support, fears concerning present and future survival
and constant anxiety often result in depression. They do not know how
long their case will take to process and therefore have no foreseeable
prospects for family reunion.
All these factors make eventual settlement and integration much slower
and far more complex. We have known families who have lived this way for
five or six years while their cases have been decided. Can you imagine
what it is like to live like this? How far can your $100 stretch in the
supermarket? How many of us agonise over our ability to seek medical help
for sick children?
In the coming months there will be a campaign seeking work rights for
these people so they can live with some dignity while their cases are
decided. You might consider supporting this campaign. Earlier this year,
the government announced an increase of 20,000 migrants to our annual
migrant intake of 120,000 to boost the number of workers in the country.
So we certainly don't have job shortages at present.
In today's reading from the Gospel of Matthew, (Matt 16:2127) Jesus
begins to speak to His disciplesto those whom He lovesabout
His forthcoming passion. He shares with them that He will suffer greatly
and will be put to death and he will rise again.
He is revealing to his disciples, and indeed to us, the heart and mystery
of our faith. If we want to follow Himand we say we do since we
are Christiansthen He says we are to renounce ourselves take up
our cross, whatever it may be, and follow Him. At times I come away from
Villawood after hearing someone's story and find myself deeply touched
not only by the depth of the person's pain and suffering, but very often
by their sincere surrender to God whom they recognise as playing a role
in their outcome, whatever that might be. A true surrender that is of
trust and absolute faith. Here I find the suffering Christ among us. At
those times I leave knowing I have received more than I have given.
Pain and suffering must come to us and are part of the human condition.
It is for us though, knowing God's mercy to us, to be merciful; to love
as He loves us. As He has taken our brokenness to Himself, so are we to
do for our brothers and sisters.
So How Can We Bring About Change?
When the problems faced seem insurmountable, sometimes it is hard to stay
motivated to advocate for change. But big changes often spring from small
actions. In a climate of misinformation and hostility, it is more crucial
than ever to read and to be informed. Speak out the trutheven if
it is to friends and familyin order to debunk the myths that abound
concerning asylum seekers and refugees.
Reflect on seemingly arbitrary judgements concerning who should be included
or excluded from our societyare the seeds of racism finding root
Your actions can go further than this, too: consider writing to your local
member and lobbying for change or join in campaigns against discrimination.
Also consider some hands-on practical involvement in the form of volunteering
at organisations that pro-actively help refugees and asylum seekers.
I would commend to you 'House of Welcome' at Carramar, which is the NSW
Ecumenical Council's project offering support to refugees and asylum seekers
who have been released from detention and are living in the community.
'House of Welcome' was commenced in 2002, and offers assistance with housing
and subsistence funds, English and computer classes, job searches, legal
support and a respite holiday program.
There are many formal and informal support groups throughout the community
formed by people who feel really moved by the plight of refugees and asylum
seekers. Seek them out. See what is right for you.
To conclude, these matters are not easy. We may feel fearful or disturbed
and confused about what to do or say. No matter. Go aside for a while
into the presence of our God. Surrender in love to Love. Allow yourself
to resonate with the words that the Prophet Jeremiah gives us: 'You have
seduced me Yahweh, and I have let myself be seduced; you have overpowered
me, you were the stronger' (Jer 20:7). In the strength of His Love, you
will know what to think and say and do.
Thank you for all that you are already doing.
Francis Mansour is a sister of the
Little Company of Mary. She works for refugees in her Order's Refugee
Project and also works at the NSW Ecumenical Council in its Refugee Programme.