Yesterday was the end of refugee week.
Refugees have been part of human experience for as long as humanity has been around. Jesus was a refugee, his parents fleeing to Egypt when King Herod tried to kill him. Australia has historically often welcomed refugees. In South Australia Lutheran German refugees populated the Barossa Valley now famous for its German heritage and its wines which the refugees cultivated. The same is for the Clare Valley where Polish and German Catholic refugees came with the first Australian Jesuits.
After World War II hundreds of thousands of refugees came from both Eastern and Western Europe. After the Vietnam war many refugees escaped from a Communist takeover and found a new home in Australia. The present Governor of South Australia, a very respected and popular man, is a former Vietnamese boat person.
Australia still accepts refugees through the United Nations programs. However, in sharp contrast to a bipartisan welcoming of Vietnamese boat people in the 70’s, the arrival of recent boat people has become very political and controversial here in Australia.
Few would say that there should not be boarders between countries. Few would say that there should not be a sensible management of who and how and how many people should enter the country.
Contemporary movements of migration represent the largest movement of individuals in history.
Fleeing from situations of extreme poverty or persecution in the hope of a better future, or simply to save their own lives, millions choose to leave their own country and migrate.
This is often accompanied by fear and suspicion on the part of receiving countries. There are of course complex questions on the management of refugee arrivals in a country.
However, as Christians we need to have some non-negotiables if we are to be true to the Gospel.
We need to preserve the dignity of each human person.
We need to truly listen to the real needs of individuals and not just adhere to generalisations and not just give an unreflective response to refugee needs. One size does not fit all.
We need to adhere to commonly accepted requirements and norms of human decency.
If our actions are actually hurting asylum seekers we need to ask why and stop destructive practices.
We need to ensure that we do not use refugees as ‘political’ pawns in power struggles.
We need to be able to use our democratic powers to convince our governments to treat all refugees and asylum seekers with the dignity that they deserve as fellow human beings.
We must make sure the ‘popularist’ views or responses to asylum seeking do not keep us from the truth about refugees and their treatment.
For us Christians we can never compromise on our gospel values when it comes to the treatment of others.
While Australia does some very commendable things in the welcome and treatment of refugees, there are some practises which I am sad to say I find hard to find compatible to my Christian beliefs.
I repeat there are complex questions involving refugees. There are no simplistic answers!
However, we need to reflect together as to what is decent best practise in all of our responses.
If we do not, we are not only damaging the dignity of others but also our own!
We can do better than that!
So many of our brothers and sisters in our Christian communities and our neighbourhoods are of refugee background. Let us make sure that they feel welcome!