Wednesday, April 9, 2014

When the boats come in Aloysious Mowe SJ, Aurora (Diocese of Maitland) April 2014

Most recent public opinion polls show that a significant majority of Australians support the harsh policies of the present government towards asylum seekers who come on boats.

I know of no recent survey of attitudes in the Australian Catholic population towards the same issue, but it cannot have escaped us that the current policies have been put in place by a government led by a Catholic (and former seminarian) who wears his faith on his sleeve, and that the Minister for Immigration lists ‘Church’ as his favourite hobby in ‘Who’s Who’.
The reality is that the current policies have in effect criminalised anyone who comes to Australia by boat to seek asylum. The government consistently refers to these asylum seekers as ‘illegal’, and cites this alleged ‘illegality’ as the reason for refusing them the right to seek asylum in Australia. The government is fully aware that the UN Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a signatory, states clearly that asylum seekers should not be punished for the way they enter a country. Making an issue of a non-issue, that of illegal entry, is one of the big lies being told by this government, a lie that has contributed to the hardened attitudes of the public.
The consequences have been horrendous……….
Children have now been locked up for months on Christmas Island with no access to education. In recent weeks the government has begun transporting some of these children to Nauru, their future uncertain, and their physical and mental health at risk the longer they remain in detention.
The government claims the moral high ground by saying that Australia is on the side of the millions of refugees who have been waiting patiently for years in refugee camps around the world for countries such as this one to resettle them, and that 11,000 visas a year are being granted to these people. Those who come by boat are jumping the queue and should instead stay where they are until it is their turn to be resettled.
This is another lie…….
……….We do not help those most in need; rather we choose the ones we want…….Australia has refused to take unaccompanied children and people with severe disabilities, arguably the most needy of refugees, because it does not want the trouble and expense that these groups would present. Australia also deliberately refuses to take refugees from certain countries, regardless of need, because of concerns about security, ……….
While the countries bordering Syria have taken in 2.5 million refugees from that country’s civil war, Australia has been unwilling to share its wealth and resources with the mere 17,000 boat arrivals in 2012, and the 20,000 in 2013. Pope Francis is surely right, and his words are most apt for Australians, when he says that our consciences need to be ‘converted to justice, equality, simplicity and sharing’. …….
………. what of the rest of us who claim to bear the name of Christ, who made himself poor? Have we welcomed the stranger, even at great cost to ourselves? Or have we locked up our Lord on Christmas Island, and sent him to Nauru and Manus Island, out of sight and out of mind? ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me’ (Matthew 25:45).
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