An Appeal re: Asylum Seekers

Last night I tossed and turned, and woke way too early. My mind was occupied with the current debate on Asylum Seekers, and how both major parties were about to reinvent the harsh policy of indefinitely detaining asylum seekers who arrive by boat.

I know this subject is incredibly complex, and that there is a wide spectrum of views. Even so, I rose early and wrote this letter to my local MP, Melissa Parke. I should also say that I sent it to a few other MPs as well 😉

I wanted to share it with you, and encourage you to prayerfully remember those who for no fault of their own are fleeing for their lives. Please also remember that around 90% of people who come on ‘the boats’ are eventually recognised as genuine refugees. Further, many of them are unable to follow the standard channels of seeking a refugee visa through an Australian Embassy in their country. As the letter implies, in some places, Australian Embassies are in secret locations.

Anyway, here’s my email to Melissa Parke, MP:

August 15, 2012 06:48

Dear Melissa,

Having spent a near sleepless night thinking through the current discussion in federal parliament re: asylum seekers , I wanted to write to you as my parliamentary representative and appeal to you to seek a solution on this matter that does not include indefinite detention on Nauru or Manus Island.

I must acknowledge that I do not have an exhaustive understanding of all the relevant polices, nor do I grasp all the complexities that face those seeking asylum or those government representatives and officials who are seeking to deal with their arrival and subsequent request for asylum. Even so, I am deeply disturbed by the option currently being discussed in Parliament.

My question: Given that our goal seems to be to stop the boats and stop the deaths at sea, why can’t the Australian Government develop a strategic partnership with Indonesia to process requests for asylum on Indonesian soil?

The typical track for most refugees arriving by boat is via Indonesia. It appears that most ‘people smugglers’ operate out of Indonesia, or have key staging operations there. If a collaborative Australian/Indonesian approach would establish processing facilities or camps in Indonesia, it would therefore stop the boats from leaving and immediately end the market for people smugglers. Asylum seekers would see this as a preferred option to risking their lives at sea.

These processing facilities could be staffed by Australian Immigration officials with a clear brief to expeditiously assess the bona fides of asylum claims. There should be clear time limits for each person’s claim so that people are not detained indefinitely.

It seems most people currently coming through Indonesian channels are people to whom the ‘normal’ paths of asylum request (seek visa via an Australian Embassy) are not open, for example an Afgan Hazara fleeing the Taliban cannot go to the Australian Embassy in Kabul because according to DFAT its location is secret. As the normal channels are not open to such people, we cannot expect them to use those channels. We must provide some other means for them to seek a life of freedom and peace.

Please consider my appeal, and act compassionately in the interests of those who have no voice, and who have no means to come to Australia via the proper channels.

Grace and peace,

Dave Groenenboom

“When I was a stranger…”

This morning’s news reports Bernie Fraser, former Governor of Australia’s Reserve Bank, as saying, ‘For a long time I’ve thought Australia could become something of a special country, a demonstration of a country that was competitive, fair and compassionate and I’m afraid those hopes have been dashed…’ [ABC News]

One area where compassion and consideration could be brought to bear is how we receive asylum seekers.

At the outset, we recognise there needs to be expedient processing of claims and an even handed establishment of the bona fides of those who seek asylum. While around 90% of all claims are typically found to be genuine, we need not neglect due process because most seem legitimate. We do wonder, though, whether it needs to take as long as it does sometimes take.

Muddy

Jon Owen’s book, “Muddy Spirituality: Bringing it all back down to earth” tells the story of how one local Melbourne pastor collaborated with Hotham Mission to provide lodging for a group of asylum seekers:

“Aside form having to keep strong communication lines open, and with nearly daily cultural misunderstandings from a multi-national household, we also sought to make the house a home. When men live together the natural tendency is to shut off and make the place more like a boarding house, rather than a place where support can be found … it was a place where God was regularly sought, as we all learnt what it meant for people who were never meant to meet, to be forced by circumstances to live together. Regular common meals were the place where community was formed and relationships built”

They called it “The House of Hope” because they received people who have so few rights and so little protection, and they created a place where they received shelter, support and community. For the asylum seekers who stayed there and for those who oversaw the project, “The House of Hope” provided an opportunity to rediscover God’s compassion and the meaning of humanity.

“We got to meet many men from many nations and hear heart breaking stories of murder, torture and painful separation that left them scarred and traumatised”

See, all of us get to choose how we respond to the issue of refugees and asylum seekers. We can listen to the voices of fear and suspicion, and retreat into isolation and rejection. Or we can live in the values of mateship, a fair go, of justice, humility and peace that reveal the kingdom of God.

We can listen to the voices of fear and suspicion, and retreat into isolation and rejection. Or we can live in the values of mateship, a fair go, of justice, humility and peace that reveal the kingdom of God.

“Ministry begins with noticing the people who are all too easily overlooked. For those of us seeking to follow Jesus there are no invisible people. We need to pray that God provides us with the same eyes as Jesus. This vision begins when, instead of looking upwards, we look down at those who exist at our feet. The image of the Good Samaritan, getting off his donkey can truly become an icon for our transformation if we begin to allow the donkey of our culture’s hopes and dreams to stop driving us along the road, and we hop off for long enough, we will meet the people Jesus met.”
[Jon Owen, Muddy Spirituality]

On the night before one of the residents left to marry his fiancee, he spoke these moving words to everyone in the house, “thank you for helping awaken something within me what I thought was lost forever – the ability for my heart to once again love and trust, what I once lost has now been found, my heart thanks you.”

Read those words. Listen carefully, and you may be able to hear angels rejoicing…

Rethinking Refugees

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I have just had a vivid dream. And not being one who dreams a lot, I thought it was worth sharing.

I was at an outdoor venue listening to my daughter (@melodyjoyg) speak about Australia’s current treatment of refugees. Melody always speaks with passion and warmth, and this time was no exception. Except that I can’t remember anything she said. Toward the end, though, she said “I’ll now show you how we should welcome those who have risked all to come here…”

She asked us to close our eyes, and when we opened them Melody had transformed herself into a Old English Sheepdog puppy. I know. That’s pretty crazy. But think about it: what do you do with an old English Sheepdog Puppy? You walk up and pat it, cuddle it, play with it. You love a puppy like that, and you want to take it home, and make it part of your family.

So, how does all that work when we’re thinking about refugees?

Well, we all know that there are good processes to determine the bona fides of those seeking to be recognised as refugees, and we know Australia needs to guard her borders.

We should also know that over 90% of those who come to Australia in boats are eventually recognised as refugees. That is, nearly all have a valid case!

While not neglecting due process and assessment, my dream is that we can love and receive refugees warmly and openly and lovingly. As Australians, we need to learn how to ‘take them home and make them part of our family’. Like how we are drawn to embrace a puppy. We want to give them a home so we can care for them and provide shelter and safety. It may sound childish, and it probably should. Then again, children tell us a lot about how to treat people in need.

Yesterday I heard one voice that breathed a little light into the refugee question. Foreign Minister designate Bob Carr, almost as an aside in his press conference with the Prime Minister, said he was passionate about the plight of refugees. That’s what we need here: the language of heart, instead of the fear driven three word slogans of ‘Stop The Boats’.

Truth be known: Melody doesn’t work with refugees, although in her position with Compassion Australia, she has a great opportunity to bring the plight of the broken and the needy into our lives.

And really, I still think the whole sheepdog puppy thing is a little weird. But I know this: refugees need safety and care. They need love and friendship. They need to know there is a place where they can live without fear, where the nightmares can be stilled, and where they can breathe again.

Australia, we can do this.

Q: what are your thoughts about how we treat refugees?

Next: one inspiring example of how this has been done