Yesterday Australia and Papua New Guinea announced an agreement for processing refugees who arrive in Australian waters by boat, but have no visa. Yesterday also, my social media streams overflowed with people outraged and embarrassed and who – in so many ways – were able to position themselves in the best possible light.
My social media skills fail me here, because I don’t know how to sum up my thoughts in no more than 140 characters. This post is my effort to think a bit more clearly about the whole refugee issue.
Here are some points about which I am pretty certain.
- Refugees need refuge
This is basic, a foundation. Like most foundations, it’s not always at the centre of comment. Yet it needs the occasional reinforcement. I think Australia is well-placed to provide refuge for people in great need. And what an astonishing thing that the world has refugee conventions, workers dedicated to refugee care, international law, … Even though they don’t work perfectly, I thank God for these.
- Boat trips to Australia are unnecessarily dangerous
SIEV-X is a famous example of tragedy in dangerous seas, but not an isolated one. I write ‘unnecessarily’ because there’s always danger, and I assume many people in flight have already been through much that is unsafe. Yet it would be good to eliminate this risk.
- Refugee camps hold people too long
In my region, Albury-Wodonga, hundreds of Bhutanese refugees have been resettled after up to 20 years in camps. At first, I was incredulous at such a delay. An often-linked article this week says that asylum-seekers in Indonesia may wait 20-30 years for settlement in a third country. Wouldn’t it be good to see substantial change in this figure!
- I don’t know
I don’t know international law. I don’t know how to formulate national policy. I don’t know what it’s like for the navy, customs and quarantine to implement boat policy. I have no insight into the motives of prime minister, opposition leader or others who speak up. I am the definition of ‘all care but no responsibility’ – the perfect place from which to pontificate.
- So … I feel unable to form an opinion about the Australia-PNG agreement. It might be good. It might be bad. It could be both good and bad.
- So … I’m not going to blame ‘the politicians’. We’re all involved: electors, media, politicians, employers, unions – everyone. The problem is not them, the problem is us.
- So … I suggest we truly talk to those who have influence on refugee policy. Enquire and listen, then communicate. There’s the local federal parliamentarian. No doubt there are others, too. A good topic to keep raising: that Australia continue its humanitarian refugee intake.
Those who read the Bible have plenty of reason to sympathise with refugees. The Israelites, after Passover, we taught to remember that they were once aliens (Exodus 23:9). Jesus’ family fled to Egypt away from Herodian danger (Matthew 2:13-15). And Christians are people named as travellers and exiles who received needed mercy (1 Peter 2:9-12).
None of these verses make resolution of the refugee problem easy. Nor do they give us direct insight into policy. But they all spur Christians to compassion, mercy and the openness of love.