It was just a couple of months ago when Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton said: “Australians must guard against compassion towards refugees as it could undo the government’s hard-fought success in discouraging people smugglers.” [1]  I believe Mr Dutton’s statement reflects a faulty logic.  If the boats were going to start again because of compassion, they would have started when asylum seekers moved to the United States, or when kindness was finally shown to people who were in desperate need of medical help.  The boat turn back policy seems quite sufficient to stop those who are attempting to smuggle drugs, weapons and people.

I have never viewed compassion as something I need to guard myself against.  Compassion is required for the people held in Nauru, PNG, and other detention centres.  People sometimes ask how a holocaust could happen.  It’s quite simple – demonise a group of people making them “the problem” or somehow “less than human”.  From there it’s easy to treat them without compassion, in fact, we’d need to guard against compassion.  Such is the case for the asylum seekers held in Australian detention centres because we all know they are “boat people”, “economic refugees”, or “terrorists” who are trying to subvert our way of life.

What about children?

Right now, there are several children on Nauru who are severely or critically unwell.  Some of them are self-harming and suicidal.  Consider:

  • A 12-year-old girl who was taken to Nauru hospital after attempting to set herself on fire, an incident that was witnessed by other children. She has made multiple attempts recently to end her life.  Several adults have also set themselves on fire on Nauru, one fatally, and some children have attempted to kill themselves by that method. [2]
  • Or the 17-year-old girl who is being treated inside the regional processing centre after refusing all food, fluid and medical treatment. Three doctors have diagnosed her with a major depressive disorder and “resignation syndrome”.[3] A person who knows the girl said she had previously been one of the brightest and most articulate of the refugee children.  “Before she got sick, she was the best-performing student. She had a dream to be a doctor in Australia and to help others. Now, she is on food-and-fluid refusal and begging to die as death is better than Nauru.” [4]
  • Then there is the 12-year-old boy who had been refusing to eat for 20 days and was finally flown to Brisbane last Tuesday. The boy weighed 36kg and is unable to stand.  His mother and sister are being held in detention in Brisbane but are allowed to visit him.
  • There’s a 14-year-old boy with muscle wastage so severe he may never walk normally again.
  • And a two-year-old child whose parents are too unwell to care for him.

I read these stories and find it so hard to guard against compassion, but I’m trying hard Mr Dutton, I really am!  This week, Buzzfeed released the personal testimonies of one child and two young adult detainees on Nauru. I encourage you to listen to their stories and share them with others.[5]

What about families?

The descriptions of families being torn apart and devastated are heart-wrenching. For example, an air ambulance arrived on Nauru recently to take a gravely ill 15-year-old refugee boy to Taiwan.  After protests from his family (about being separated, possibly permanently) and concerns over his fitness to fly, the plane left without a patient.  International Health & Medical Services (IHMS) staff have made frequent requests for the boy to be moved to a place where higher-level care is available.  The Australian Border Force maintains the boy and his family have refused treatment, citing the plane being turned away at the cost of more than $100,000.  If you were in this family’s position, what would you do? I would feel devastated if one of my children were seriously ill and was being moved to a developing country without Christie and myself; a country where she wouldn’t know anyone and wouldn’t understand the language. But there I am getting all compassionate again.

What about the cost?

This year at least 14 legal challenges have been brought before the federal court seeking immediate orders that children be moved from Nauru to a place where higher-level care is available, almost invariably Australia.  The government has opposed each challenge, but each has been successful: every case has either been conceded by the government at the courthouse door or resulted in an order from the bench that children be moved immediately, a process that is costing hundreds of thousands of dollars all in the name of guarding against compassion.

These are just a few examples of the extreme suffering being experienced by the 117 children (and their families) still on Nauru, and all but a handful have already been recognised as legitimate refugees.  Our government should be very concerned about the upcoming Pacific Islands Forum beginning on September 1. “The Australian and Nauru governments are going to extraordinary efforts to cover up the abuse of refugees and asylum seekers on Nauru.  Demolishing the tents and providing new cars to drive around in, won’t hide the reality of the abuse that Nauru is now internationally identified with.” [6]

I hope the media representatives that get to Nauru to cover the Forum will also be allowed to report honestly on the devastating plight of asylum seekers.  May they NOT guard against compassion.

Please join Christie and me in advocating to get the Kids off Nauru.  Go to Kids Off Nauru to find out how you can make a difference, and use #kidsoffnauru in all social media posts.  Thank you for your compassion.




[3] Children suffering resignation syndrome effectively withdraw from life – refusing to eat, drink, toilet, leave their beds, speak, or even open their eyes. They are sometimes completely unresponsive to stimuli. Resignation syndrome is a very serious state of withdrawal that traumatised children can go through when they are “overwhelmed by stress.”






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.

I’ve taken the title for this blog from an article in this week’s BRW magazine. It’s a refreshing and inspiring article about some asylum seekers who arrived on our shores by boat and have become major contributors to Australian society. It’s an important article because so often “boat people” are typecast in a particular, mostly negative way.

The BRW article tells the story of people like Huy Truong who arrived in Australia on a boat carrying 40 other Vietnamese people in 1978. He was just seven at the time. Twenty-one years later he founded the gifting site with his wife Cathy and two sisters. They sold it last year to Qantas and he is now a private equity investor.

Tan Le also came by boat with her mother, three-year-old sister and 70-year-old grandmother. Le was just four years old. Speaking of the dangerous boat trip to Australia she says, “If you think there is any other chance of surviving in a reasonable, meaningful way, you wouldn’t choose such a difficult path and venture into the unknown.” People escaping the prospect of imprisonment, persecution, torture or death because of war, their faith or their race will take drastic action to secure safety for themselves and their families. I would, wouldn’t you? In 1998 Le was named “Young Australian of the year” and is now co-founder of Emotiv, a producer of headsets that read brain signals and facial movements to control technology.

Nathan Werdiger was a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp. He arrived in Australia in 1949 as a humanitarian migrant and subsequently founded the Juilliard Corporation, one of the biggest landlords in the Melbourne CBD.

In 1947 Frank Lowy (Westfield founder and Australia’s second-richest person) was a 15-year-old refugee from war-devastated Slovakia. In a speech last year he described himself as a “boat person,” one of 700 who escaped Europe in a rickety tub designed for 70. He arrived at Sydney airport on Australia Day 1952. He was 21.

Each of these people expresses concern over Australia’s over-politicizing, and current harsh treatment, of asylum seekers. Many of Australia’s boat people, past and present, come from places where there is no formal queue to join. One of the solutions to this is for Australia to establish processing facilities in South East Asia where the Immigration Department could assess people’s claims and then re-settle genuine asylum seekers in Australia or other nations. This has the potential to stop the people smugglers who are currently profiting hugely from the illegal traffic of people and are responsible for the drowning deaths of many.

This would also end the current detention of people on Islands like Manus and Nauru, as well as the harsh policy of releasing asylum seekers into the Australian community without giving them the right to study or work. This policy does nothing to support our economy (in fact it is imposing long-term costs on Australia) and only causes further damage to those who are already traumatised.

Huy Truong says, “There’s no better way of humanitarian relief than to give people the opportunity to earn their own keep and feel proud about being a contributor to their society.”

Frank Lowy adds, “To imagine a better life for you and your family and to make the leap of faith required to leave behind all that is familiar calls for a special kind of courage.” Australia has greatly benefited from the courage of these four people (and many others like them). What if they had been intercepted in Australian waters and sent to Manus Island? They would have missed out and so would we!

For further reading check out:

How refugees changed Australian business

Boat People: A Christian Response

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!