I hate it when people are turned into political footballs, but that’s just what has happened with the massive number of refugees in the world due to conflicts and persecution in various nations.
According to the Salvation Army, there is an estimated 42.5 million people displaced by persecution and conflict in the world. This breaks down to 15.2 million refugees, 26.4 million internally displaced persons and 895,000 asylum seekers.
Australia, like many other western nations, has become polarised over this issue. This polarisation becomes very clear to me anytime I post on this topic on social media. That’s what I did last night. I simply put three quotes on my Facebook page and didn’t make any personal comment at all. The quotes were these:
“No Muslims should be allowed into this country until there’s a process in place to fully vet them. We’ve got to turn away those who could potentially pose a threat until this war with radical Islam is over” ~ Franklin Graham.
“I always thought that if more good people had concealed-carry permits, then we could end those Muslims before they walk in and kill” ~ Jerry Falwell Jr.
“You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbour and hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven” ~ Jesus Christ.
And off it went. One of the standouts from the comments was the number of people who agreed with Franklin Graham, but only one person agreed with Jesus. That’s it! And the vast majority of those commenting were Christians. I believe we need to consider two words when considering helping asylum seekers: compassion and caution – and we should always err on the side of compassion because that’s what God has done for everyone through His Son, Jesus – the One we celebrate at Christmas time.
Australia is a signatory to the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees. This convention defines a refugee as: “Any person who owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.” If a person is found to be a refugee, Australia is obliged under international law to offer protection and support and to ensure that they are not sent back unwillingly to the country of origin.
Unfortunately the politicising of Asylum seekers has led to so many compassionless views, words and actions. We talk about “illegal immigrants” who are “boat people.” Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat are not engaging in any illegal activity – and they are not immigrants. Asylum seekers do not break any Australian laws simply by arriving on boats or without authorisation. Refugees, unlike immigrants, are forced to leave their country and cannot return unless the situation that forced them to leave improves. Personally I’m glad the flow of boat arrivals has been stopped but for no other reason than it has prevented the horrendous number of people being drowned.
In addition to labeling precious people as “illegal immigrants” the compassionless also labeled them as “queue jumpers.” This term shows a total lack of awareness of the awful situations from which refugees flee. If you were fleeing persecution or war where would you go? Which queue would you join? Ponder those questions and allow compassion to put you in the shoes of those who find themselves having to leave homes, jobs and their communities in order to keep themselves and their families safe. Orderly resettlement of refugees is the exception rather than the rule: only a tiny minority (less than one per cent of the world’s refugees) is resettled and there is no orderly resettlement “queue” which refugees can join.
Australia has also lacked compassion in locking asylum seekers up in detention for years. This year we’ve had a number of asylum seekers join Bayside Church. Listening to their stories has been a real eye opener. Some were in detention for years on Christmas Island, others on Nauru, most were moved to several locations. Some have residency now, others are on Temporary Protection Visas. One young man is in risk of being returned to his country of origin in 2016 when his TPV expires. If this happens he will either be imprisoned or killed. We need more compassion!
But with compassion we also need to exercise caution. It is possible that evil organisations such as ISIS will try and infiltrate countries through the flood of refugees. Every country has a duty to also protect its own citizens and so, as we demonstrate compassion let us also exercise caution and have strong processes in place to make sure our country stays as safe as possible.
This Christmas can I encourage you to reach out compassionately to others? That’s what God has done for each person through His Son, Jesus. As we celebrate the birth of the Saviour may our actions and words also bring some peace on earth and goodwill to all people.