Yesterday I went to “A Christian Service of Commemoration for Those Lost at Sea”. It was a surprisingly moving experience for me.
The dead at sea
Refugees seeking asylum have been coming to Australia by boat for many years. Some don’t make it in leaky, overcrowded and poorly-crewed boats, and drown. No-one knows the numbers, but possibly a thousand have drowned in the past five years.
You’d think that would de-sensitise us all to deaths at sea, and it seems to have – until recently.
About two weeks ago, a boat carrying Hazaras from Afghanistan sank not far from reaching its goal of Christmas Island in the Indian Ocean, an Australia territory. An estimated 55 of the occupants drowned before rescue boats could reach them. In view of the time and difficulty that would be involved in recovering the bodies, the Australian government decided not to retrieve them.
Somehow, this apparently uncaring decision seems to have made a difference to many people.
Michael Jensen makes a stand
Michael Jensen is a theological lecturer and a member of the family that currently “rules” the conservative Sydney Diocese of the Anglican Church. Shortly after the decision was announced, he wrote an impassioned reflection on the fate of these people, unknown to him and to most Australians. The dead at sea is a masterpiece, and I recommend you read it.
The service of commemoration
And so it was that the commemoration service was held yesterday in one of Sydney’s most high profile churches – St Barnabas on Broadway. As Michael reflected again on the loss of these anonymous people, lost seeking asylum from brutal persecutors, but not welcome here in Australia, there were tears of grief ….. and shame at our national callousness.
More tears as prayers were offered for the Hazara community in Australia, family and friends. More tears as a representative of that community received the condolences and apology of those present at the service. There was nothing I could say to him, just a hand on his shoulder to express solidarity.
The refugee question is not simple to resolve. But one thing is clear:
Whatever is the ‘right’ response, what we have is not it.
It is hard to believe that Jesus would try to turn back the boats or make it difficult for frightened, persecuted people to find a new life, leading them to take such desperate measures. So whatever the difficulties of accepting more refugees, we must start with what Jesus would want us to do.
The dangers of privilege
Australia has one of the highest standards of living in the world. We could easily afford to accept and assimilate more refugees. Our refusal to do so surely is a result of fear and wanting to selfishly hold onto everything we have. Rabid right wing politicians and media have fed on these fears and fanned the flames of prejudice and selfishness.
We christians must do better than this.
The text of Michael Jensen’s reflection at the service is now available here.