Boat People: A Christian Response


asylum seekers politics refugees Social justice

Boat People: A Christian Response

7 September 2011 Hits:6740

The first boat arrived in Darwin in April 1976.  Over the next five years there were 2059 Vietnamese boat arrivals with the last arriving in August 1981.  The arrival of 27 Indochinese asylum seekers in November 1989 heralded the beginning of the second wave.  Over the following nine years, boats arrived at the rate of about 300 people per annum—mostly from Cambodia, Vietnam and southern China.  In 1999, a third wave of asylum seekers, predominantly from Iraq, Afghanistan and Sri Lanka, began to arrive—often in larger numbers than previous arrivals and usually with the assistance of ‘people smugglers’.

It is my opinion that the Australian public – largely due to media bias – are largely uninformed about this issue and are unnecessarily reactive as a result.

Firstly, it’s important to understand that, compared to the rest of the world, Australia’s boat people “problem” is relatively small.  In the US, for example, it is estimated that more than 500,000 illegal aliens arrive each year.  Similarly, parts of Europe struggle to monitor and control the large annual influx from Africa and the Middle East.  In comparison in 2010, 134 boats arrived unauthorised in Australia with a total of 6,879 people on board (including crew).  Though considerably more than the seven boat arrivals in 2008 with 179 people on board, in comparison with Europe and the US this is still a small number.  In the year 2000, when approximately 3,000 boat people arrived in Australia, Iran and Pakistan each accepted over one million Afghan refugees.  In fact, the burden of assisting the world’s asylum seekers mostly falls to some of the poorest countries.  In 2009, for example, Pakistan was host to the largest number of refugees worldwide (1.75 million), followed by Iran (1.07 million) and Syria (1.05 million).  These figures should help us gain a healthy perspective of the small nature of Australia’s asylum seeker “problem”.  The truth is that there are far more important issues that our politicians and media should be responding too and spending money on – such as health care, infrastructure, taxation reform and care of our aging population.

Secondly, the majority of asylum seekers actually arrive in Australia by air with a valid visa and then apply for protection sometime after their arrival.  In the last year illegal boat arrivals made up 47% of asylum seekers – an increase of 16% on the previous year, but still less than half.  In spite of this, political and media attention only focuses on those arriving by boat.

A Christian response to refugees and asylum seekers should be twofold.  Our first response should be inline with the Golden Rule: “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you” (Matthew 7:12).  In this statement Jesus is teaching His people to put themselves in the shoes of others – to be compassionate and proactive.  Have you ever tried to put yourself in the place of a refugee?  What must it be like to feel that you cannot stay in your own home, in your city, in your country because staying will mean violence, starvation, persecution, or death?  What level of desperation drives a person or a family to leave the home they love and pay big money to get on a dodgy boat in order to get to Australia?  How would you like to be treated by others if you found yourself in this situation?  Australia demonstrates its compassion by allocating 13,000 places annually to asylum seekers.

But compassion doesn’t mean we have to be a soft option.  Jesus also taught people to “be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves” (Matthew 10:16).  We do have a duty of care to refugees – but we have an even greater duty of care to those who already call Australia home.  I have no doubt that the majority of those seeking asylum in Australia are genuine refugees, but I also don’t doubt that there are some who will not be a blessing to this nation.  Asylum seekers need to be carefully processed as to their health, safety and identity (not an easy job when many deliberately destroy their passports).  Only after careful processing has taken place should genuine refugees be granted asylum in Australia.  Those who riot, burn detention facilities, and demonstrate other anti-social behaviour should be deported without question.  We do not want to import people who behave in this manner when they don’t get their own way.  Asylum seekers also need to be educated on our culture and values so they can easily assimilate here.

The other area that requires shrewdness is in our dealings with the people smugglers themselves.  These people are greedy at the expense of the most vulnerable.  They care little for refugees; they care greatly for getting rich.  The penalties for people smuggling were increased last year but these increases don’t seem to be a deterrent so far.  People smugglers are bringing refugees to Australia at an increasing rate and somewhere between 200-300 of these refugees have lost their lives at sea.  More needs to be done – in cooperation with nations like Malaysia and Indonesia – to cut this crime off at the source.

This is a complex issue and one that is not going to be solved quickly or easily.  In fact with an increase in global conflict even more people will be forced to seek asylum in safer places like Australia.  We have a responsibility to help these troubled people; we also have a responsibility to make sure Australia continues to be a safe place for its citizens!

Rob Buckingham

Senior Minister

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7 replies on “Boat People: A Christian Response”

Steve Foggsays:

Rob, great post.

At Crossway we have actively been engaged on the asylum seeker issue in terms of policy and offering to support to unaccompanied minors.

It’s a complex area full of myths.

One of the challenges as Christians I think we face look at the facts rather than be ignorant of the facts but only be aware of the myths that are perpetuated out there in the media.

I blogged about it o

Sonia Vowlessays:

Having worked as a Care/Case Manager in the UK for an ‘Asylum Seekers’ team with a local govt. authority, I am aware of the complexity of this issue. I think that you have covered the complexities in your article very well especially from a Christian perspective. As Christians we need to have compassion but we are also infuenced by many other factors media included as you have pointed out. The issue of justice is essential not only for ‘boat people’ and other asylum seekers but also for people who have recognised refugee status and the poor in our own nation who sometimes feel that do not receive the same help as given to refugees. I totally agree that those who destroy government property and in the process place the lives of other people at risk should be immediately deported and not given any right of appeal.

Carmel Donaldsays:

Great article on Refugees.

Only thing missing was the fact that in the United Kingdom they take many more refugees and are able to process them in one month, is it humane to keep these people imprisoned anywhere for such a long period (12 months and more) who have committed no crime?

Just a thought, maybe we should be shrewd enough to get some advice on the processing method used in the UK notwithstanding Australia is a little more isolated from the rest of the world, but 12 months is an awful long time!

Tony Daltonsays:

A compassionate and considered article Rob, but I wonder whether we are blaming the victims with regard to the destruction of facilities. If we are seeking to empathise with refugees, consider what it would be like to be placed in a prison (flouting internationally agreed principles of prison as a last resort) which is undermanned and staffed by under trained officers, where you have little or no hope or foreseeable progress in your application. Add to that the loss of family, culture, country and often the death of loved ones (for which limited or no counselling is given) coupled with the fear of potentially being sent back to a regime in which you will be persecuted or possibly killed (the fundamental principle for obtaining citizenship), it’s little wonder their frustration occasionally finds expression in destructive behaviour. I don’t know how I would cope.
We are now the only developed country in the world which practises indiscriminate indeterminate incommunicado detention of asylum seekers and given that 85% of them will be released into the community one wonders about the inhumanity of this system, particularly for unaccompanied minors
It doesn’t excuse violence but perhaps we should be looking at the log in our own eyes first.

Peter Ksays:

Thoughtfull Article Rob

My daughter is dating a Lad who escaped Iran with his parents and younger brother, they arrived as boat people nearly 12 years ago. Having spent time in a refugee camp in Indonesia they arrived in Australia and were accepted as genuine refugees.

Both sons are in accelerated learning with the oldest accepted to Monash University in a year 11 specialty course as he is training to be in the medical field. The whole family is intergrated into the community as the father owns a painting business and is a savvy property investor, they had no money when they arrived.

[b][/b]How did they intergrate? When the mother was dropping the boys of at school a couple mums from the local SDA Church in Lilydale invited her along to a Mums connect group and from that they mums served the family, they demonstrated Jesus.

This family of Musilim extraction realised that Jesus was more than a prophet but the living saviour and because of a faithful group of mums, baptisms followed.

These boats are bringing oppurtunity to our shores, “If we can’t bring Jesus to the mountain then let the mountain come to Jesus”

Peter ;D

Michael Gilmoursays:

As usual a great post.
One of the challenges with deporting is that where do you deport them to? Often the country of “origin” doesn’t want them and I’m certain that no one else does either. This means that there is a growing problem of people that have no where to go either due to advertent or inadvertent behaviour.

What I found interesting was the scale of the problem compared to the rest of the world. Although Pakistan has taken in 1.75m refugees it would be interesting to see whether they took them in because they just couldn’t stop them. Australia is surrounded by water and this creates a significant physical and mental barrier for people to come here.

Rebecca Valenzuelasays:

I read the article and got disappointed, sorry Rob. The article was certainly informative but I found it sitting on the fence more than presenting a refine/form a clear unambiguous Christian view of the issue.

I think that when Jesus asked us to show compassion, it was unconditional compassion. I understand that it is very very difficult to determine genuine cases, but given Jesus’s lead, we are better off erring on the compassionate side rather on the shrewed side of things.

Take care and God Bless.

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