Desperate people fleeing persecution in their home countries make long journeys, overland and by boat, to reach the safe haven of Australia, hoping to be granted refugee status and residency. They don’t receive a welcome.
I have travelled a long journey in my thinking about asylum seekers, and it seems our country is on a similar journey.
The ethics of selfishness
I have blogged on this vexed issue several times (see links below). The issues are simple to explain but difficult to resolve. We have a moral and legal obligation to accept genuine refugees, but if we do, more and more will probably come. So successive governments have made conditions tougher and tougher for those reaching our shores.
Australians would normally see themselves as generous people, but on this issue, fear of losing control of the situation has driven increased brutalisation of detainees. And the boats seem to have almost stopped.
Coming to terms with it all
I have been changing my mind gradually on these matters. Naturally I want to care for those traumatised, persecuted and dispossessed who seek asylum here. But I can see there must be some practical limits on how many we accept, though I don’t know if we are anywhere near reasonable limits yet.
I have documented on this blog how I feel conflicted by these competing objectives (again, see the links below). I have felt deeply ashamed of our country’s callous treatment of vulnerable people, but I haven’t really known what the ‘right’ response might be.
Crossing a line
But I think I have recently crossed another line in my thinking.
Imagine a situation where I am in a prison camp, the guards offer me the alternative of shooting and killing one of my fellow inmates, or being killed myself. It’s one life or another, but I don’t think many of us would have any doubt that I should refuse. An immoral action is unlikely to become moral just because it saves me from something I desperately want to avoid.
So it cannot be different with asylum seekers. In principle at least, the fact that my country may be adversely affected – slightly lowering our standard of living, or creating some social problems, or feeling uncomfortable at losing control – cannot ever be a justification for grossly inhumane treatment of fellow human beings.
Even if we encourage more to make the long and sometimes dangerous journey, that cannot be a justification for our immoral behaviour. Instead we should try to find other solutions that reduce the influx of refugees – diplomacy and aid to their countries of origin, better offshore processing facilities (e.g. in Indonesia), etc. But however successful those approaches are, or are not, we must treat people humanely.
In particular, about a thousand children locked in detention and reportedly suffering severe mental trauma, must be released into a better life, even if only temporarily.
I am not alone
It seems that our country too is slowly shifting in its response to these issues. Christians are leading the way in this, I am pleased to say.
In our own church, idealistic teens and conservative adults alike have started to respond, by expressing dissatisfaction with Australia’s policies, and some by attending a prayer vigil, writing letters to politicians and supporting online petitions.
Love Makes a Way
One significant development is the Love Makes a Way movement. It is based on the idea that our Government presently says “No Way!” to asylum seekers, but these christians believe through prayer and protest love will make a way.
And so christians (and some others!) of many different backgrounds have begun staging peaceful sit-ins in politicians offices, asking for an end to the detention of children, praying for the politicians, and generally refusing to leave until arrested so that the resulting court case makes more publicity. So far judges have treated those arrested leniently.
This tongue-in-cheek outline of what’s going on is well worth a read.
I don’t know how this will end up, but the authorities have been warned:
So our advice is to let the kids out now. Because we are powered by the Holy Spirit, and egg sandwiches cut into quarters. We have an infinite supply of both, and we are not giving up.”
- Grief ….. shame ….. and anger (June 2013),
- Refugee mistreatment makes me sick at heart (February 2014),
- A christian response to refugees seeking asylum (March 2014).
Graphics: Love Makes a Way
I enjoy reading your posts Eric 🙂
Hopefully we as a country can develop more humane and effective ways to process and treat refugees…
Then we could be leading the way in this, and be a model to other countries with similar circumstances, to be a reference to what works…
Some of my closest friends were immigrants from other countries, and these people I know definitely work hard, and make Australia a better place 🙂
Thanks Ryan for your encouragement. I think the tide is slowly turning on refugees. People have different views on whether it is desirable to allow asylum seekers to settle here, and in what numbers, but I think people are coming more and more to the view that mistreatment of people, especially children, is not the way we should achieve any policy goal.
I agree, especially when the people seeking protection are fleeing from cruelty to begin with.
As a country We shouldn’t respond to these people with cruelty as well.
Hopefully a better process can be found.