Tag Archives: immigration

,

Australians all let us rejoice. For we have… strong borders and none shall pass…

For some context – read about our Prime Minister’s joyous proclamation on our new draconian refugee policy here. The TL:DR; version is:

“From now on, any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia by boat will have no chance of being settled in Australia as refugees.”


Dear Prime Minister,

Advance Australia Fair.

I loathe people smugglers. My anger grows every time a boat sinks. My blood boils. As boat after boat, child after child, life after life, are lost at sea en route to our shores seeking ‘wealth for toil,’ perhaps, as your Foreign Minister (and mine) Bob Carr would have us believe, or perhaps they are genuinely seeking refuge from persecution, as they are legally entitled to, from their own governments.

Maybe they turned to Australia looking for a better life, as so many settlers have since our nation was so erroneously declared terra nullius. Maybe they are economic refugees. But to steal an axiom from the legal system – better an economic refugee be safely resettled in Australia where they can contribute to our economy than a genuine refugee be locked up in PNG – violating our international obligations.

Maybe these refugees are “jumping the queue” or “illegal immigrants” in the eyes of some of my fellow citizens.

Maybe that’s why you’re acting just a short time before calling an election. But I remember learning that people will judge you by the company you keep.

Maybe you’re glad to be in lock step with people like your Facebook fan Raelene, who writes:

“Lets see them all coming by boat now….won’t be so attractive! A scourge started by the labor party, allowing Captain Emad and co to come here and start a lucrative business… let us not forget this and stop thanking Rudd he created this mess…..the scourge is Rudd!!”

Or like Daniel:

“A true refugee dose not come by boat they dont have the money to pay to come by boat . They sit and wait for years to come here the legal way . The ones that come by boat are just country shopping and wont to come here for the free hand outs . So closing the door is the best news ive heard for a long time .”

Or perhaps Deborah:

“Seriously thank you Mr Rudd. Australia finally has a solution to the boat people crisis. I’ve been to PNG and in all honesty its a hole. (The people are beautiful hearted there though) When the boat people realise they are going from one poor country to another, it should curb the boats. Obviously the ones who complain about being sent to PNG (which will be 99.9% of them) are obviously not true asylum seekers”

Or Adam.

Keep Australia Australian!!!

Or Pauline.

“All of you saying you are ashamed to be Australian, because of this new stand on queue jumpers, do the right thing then and put yourself on the boat and give the refugee your place. Hey, if you are ashamed to be an Australian, leave.”

It is clear you’re on a vote winner. You’re tapping into a real undercurrent of educated and rational anger. And acting strongly and decisively.

You may even scrape together a majority.

Perhaps you will do better at sparking a belief in resurrection than many of today’s churches.

But I’m an idealist.

Political expediency is not something I’m all that into. Securing votes while shirking our international humanitarian responsibilities doesn’t get me out on the hustings talking up a candidate. Nor does being the least bad option. Let’s face it. The Coalition are abominable on this issue.

But it seems like you’re out of ideas beyond “move right. win votes.” And I want to help.

Can’t we do something different? Can’t we change the game? Can’t you think outside the box and tackle the people smugglers head on? Before people get on a boat?

Can’t we do it without relying on Indonesian legal intervention and use the most powerful secular force known to modern man? The market.

Can’t we stop making people smuggling so lucrative?

We’re spending bucket loads on border security, and even more on detention. Why not spend that money on breaking the monopoly the smugglers enjoy.

Like you I’d love to see people smuggling stop.

I know you don’t want to see people dying in the process of pursuing life. And I know you’re an economic conservative. And I know you’re interested in job creation and, until recently, a big Australia. So I want to propose some market driven alternatives.

The best two ways I can think of to force people smugglers out of the market is to undercut them, or take away their boats.

The best way to save lives, if people are determined to get on boats, is to make sure they’re getting on safer boats.

What if we ran the boats? We could process asylum seekers en route. They could purchase a ticket for a fraction of what they’d pay to go with a people smuggler, fully refundable if their claim is legit. It might mean taking more asylum seekers, but if we controlled the process from start to finish there’d be less deaths at sea, less money for the criminals.

It seems that the lack of competition is what is making people smuggling so lucrative. Prices are high. Now, smugglers may make their prices much lower in order to stay competitive. I’ll leave your economists to figure out the details, but it seems to me that people smugglers are going to continue preying on the vulnerable even if we’re going to ship their precious human cargo off to PNG (at great expense). It seems that those people who are desperate enough to keep getting on boats even when we’re putting horrific billboards in their home countries to deter them, and even when boats are sinking with increasing regularity and claiming lives, will be continue to be desperate enough to get on boats even if it means ending up in PNG – so you’re not actually going to stop people smuggling. You know that right? You’re just stopping genuine refugees arriving in Australia.

And that’s a shame.

I know you’re a Christian. And I just want to finish by asking you to consider this issue not just from the Bible’s understanding of how the prosperous should treat those seeking refuge. That’s pretty clear. I want to go to someone who I know is something of an authority or influence for you.

Bonhoeffer.

You like Bonhoeffer.

Can you imagine how he would respond to this act of legislative and moral cowardice? I suspect in the same way that other people of principle are reacting to your decision.

I keep coming back to your article about Bonhoeffer. And how you think your faith should influence your politics. You say:

“Bonhoeffer is, without doubt, the man I admire most in the history of the twentieth century… He was never a nationalist, always an internationalist.”

“For Bonhoeffer, “Obedience to God’s will may be a religious experience but it is not an ethical one until it issues in actions that can be socially valued.”

This led Bonhoeffer to people smuggling.

After the failure of these efforts, in 1940 he joined the German Abwehr (military intelligence) as a double agent, and until his arrest in late 1943 he collaborated with the armed forces’ conspiracy against Hitler – and, at the same time, organised the secret evacuation of a number of German Jews to Switzerland.

Bonhoeffer’s was a muscular Christianity. He became the Thomas More of European Protestantism because he understood the cost of discipleship, and lived it. Both Bonhoeffer and More were truly men for all seasons.

You say…

“We have for once learned to see the great events of world history from below, from the perspective of the outcast, the suspects, the maltreated, the powerless, the reviled – in short, from the perspective of those who suffer.” Bonhoeffer’s political theology is therefore one of a dissenting church that speaks truth to the state, and does so by giving voice to the voiceless. Its domain is the village, not the interior life of the chapel. Its core principle is to stand in defence of the defenceless or, in Bonhoeffer’s terms, of those who are “below”.

And then…

“I argue that a core, continuing principle shaping this engagement should be that Christianity, consistent with Bonhoeffer’s critique in the ’30s, must always take the side of the marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed. As noted above, this tradition is very much alive in the prophetic literature of the Old Testament. It is also very much alive in the recorded accounts of Jesus of Nazareth: his engagement with women, gentiles, tax collectors, prostitutes and the poor – all of whom, in the political and social environment of first-century Palestine, were fully paid-up members of the “marginalised, the vulnerable and the oppressed”. Furthermore, parallel to this identification with those “below” was Jesus’ revulsion at what he described as the hypocrisy of the religious and political elites of his time, that is, those who were “above”.”

Wouldn’t you rather stand with Bonhoeffer than with Raelene, Pauline, Adam, or Deborah?

Who is more marginalised than the refugee who no longer feels safe in their own country? Who gets on a boat, placing their life, and the lives of their families, in the hands of a people smuggler, if they are not oppressed and vulnerable?

“The function of the church in all these areas of social, economic and security policy is to speak directly to the state: to give power to the powerless, voice to those who have none, and to point to the great silences in our national discourse where otherwise there are no natural advocates.”

And then…

“Here lies the searing intensity of Bonhoeffer’s gaze, cast across the decades into our own less dramatic age: the need for the church to speak truthfully, prophetically and incisively in defiance of the superficiality of formal debate in contemporary Western politics. In other words, beyond the sound-and-light show of day-to-day political “debate”, what are the real underlying fault lines in the polity? Most critically, within those fault lines, who are the “voiceless” ones unable to clamour for attention in an already crowded political space – and who is speaking for them?”

I challenge you to listen to the moral voice of the church now – but I challenge you to think about not just how Bonhoeffer would have approached this issue, but how Jesus approached this issue for you – you who like all people, were alienated from God. Seeking asylum. And you who were brought into his kingdom by his sacrifice.

I want to leave you with your own words. Let this be a letter where the ghost of KRudd past speaks to the ghost of KRudd present.

“Another great challenge of our age is asylum seekers. The biblical injunction to care for the stranger in our midst is clear. The parable of the Good Samaritan is but one of many which deal with the matter of how we should respond to a vulnerable stranger in our midst. That is why the government’s proposal to excise the Australian mainland from the entire Australian migration zone and to rely almost exclusively on the so-called Pacific Solution should be the cause of great ethical concern to all the Christian churches. We should never forget that the reason we have a UN convention on the protection of refugees is in large part because of the horror of the Holocaust, when the West (including Australia) turned its back on the Jewish people of Germany and the other occupied countries of Europe who sought asylum during the ’30s.”

,

Boat people and Christianity


Credit: Boat People Infographic from Crikey providing numerical perspective on the current situation (I’m not suggesting that people’s anxiety on the issue is fully captured by this picture.)

Wow. Tony Abbott. Here’s a pearler of a quote from a radio interview yesterday, where admittedly, Abbott was responding to a gibe about his asylum seeker policies being “unChristian”…

“Look I don’t think it is a very Christian thing to come in by the back door rather than the front door.”

Now. Before we get into the myriad problems with this statement coming from a politician in a heated policy debate, I want to be a little sympathetic to what he’s trying to say… it’s a tragedy that genuine asylum seekers waiting in camps around the world obeying due process are missing out because some people engage in dangerous and expensive people smuggling. In an ideal world there’d be no need for people to seek refuge, but in our fallen world where bad stuff happens this sort of displacement is nothing new – it’s been happening since at least Exodus.

Whoops. I started on the theological problems already.

Every aspect of Abbott’s statement is problematic. He would have been better off copping the gibe on the chin or talking about the people trying to obey due process without even mentioning the people jumping on boats.

UPDATE: Here’s the fuller context of Abbott’s quote, lest you feel I’m misrepresenting the interview…

“And I’m all in favour of Australia having a healthy and compassionate refugee and humanitarian intake program.

“I think that’s a good thing. But I think the people we accept should be coming the right way and not the wrong way.

“If you pay a people-smuggler, if you jump the queue, if you take yourself and your family on a leaky boat, that’s doing the wrong thing, not the right thing, and we shouldn’t encourage it.”

This makes a complex ethical question into an absolute question of morality – I’m not sure you can argue that genuine asylum seekers have done the wrong thing by seeking asylum, and 97% of people who seek asylum in Australia, after arriving by boat, are found to be genuine refugees… (END UPDATE).

But ignoring the elephant in the room, that most boat people are coming from countries that aren’t exactly known for fostering significant Christian populations (though some refugees are Christians fleeing persecution) – and thus the idea that the boat people should be Christian is perhaps patently ridiculous… let’s consider for a moment that God’s people, since the very beginning, and Jesus himself, have essentially been refugees. Here are some more useful facts about boat people (PDF from the Australian Government).

Abraham left his father’s land and sought asylum in various foreign kingdoms as he headed off to the promised land.

Joseph was a refugee to Egypt.

Moses led Israel out of Egypt as asylum seeing refugees. Israel was called to care for asylum seekers/the aliens in their midst, as God does, as a result of Israel’s experience as refugees. So Deuteronomy 10:

“18 He [God] defends the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and loves the foreigner residing among you, giving them food and clothing. 19 And you are to love those who are foreigners, for you yourselves were foreigners in Egypt.”

Their failure to care for the foreigner is listed as part of the reason they’re booted out and forced into exile again in Ezekiel 22…

“‘See how each of the princes of Israel who are in you uses his power to shed blood. In you they have treated father and mother with contempt; in you they have oppressed the foreigner and mistreated the fatherless and the widow.”

Now, I know Australia isn’t the promised land, and isn’t meaningfully able to be spoken of as a Christian nation, but if the leader of the opposition brings Christianity into the debate, then it should at least be represented fairly… It’s not unChristian to seek asylum – it is the most Christian thing in the world as we’ve had to seek refuge for ourselves in Jesus. It’s arguable, though I don’t think we should really make anything of this, that Jesus’ family sought asylum when Herod was out to get them in Matthew 2.

13 When they had gone, an angel of the Lord appeared to Joseph in a dream. “Get up,” he said, “take the child and his mother and escape to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you, for Herod is going to search for the child to kill him.”

And I think a fair case can be made that Jesus replaces the cities of refuge that OT people were to flee to (Joshua 20), and that turning to Jesus, as all Christians have, is the ultimate expression of seeking asylum. It’s certainly the ultimate expression of seeking citizenship somewhere better where we’re not truly entitled to on our own merit (especially for Gentiles). So this big quote from Ephesians 2…

12 remember that at that time you were separate from Christ, excluded from citizenship in Israel and foreigners to the covenants of the promise, without hope and without God in the world. 13 But now in Christ Jesus you who once were far away have been brought near by the blood of Christ.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. 17 He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. 18 For through him we both have access to the Father by one Spirit.

19 Consequently, you are no longer foreigners and strangers, but fellow citizens with God’s people and also members of his household, 20 built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus himself as the chief cornerstone.

Now the comparison isn’t exact, and the issues here are referring to something different because Australia isn’t the kingdom of God – but there are two principles here that make it hard to justify the claim that urgently seeking asylum without regard to due process is unchristian. Firstly, Christians are asylum seekers, and secondly, the idea, for Christians, that our earthly citizenship of an earthly nation is something to be protected at the expense of being united with other people in Christ doesn’t really stand up to scrutiny. Christians in the early church framed their understanding of citizenship, a particularly significant concept when it came to the Roman Empire, around being aliens in the empire – sojourners, who loved other outsiders accordingly – loving foreigners wasn’t exclusive to Israel when they occupied the physical kingdom of Israel with some power. We seem to have lost that vibe a little bit as Christianity became a dominant socio-political force – but now we’re starting to be part of a post-Christian society we need to start being informed by this as a category again, and caring for our fellow aliens.

If we’re taking a “Christian” approach to the chance to show love to the poor and oppressed people who don’t know Jesus then we’re going to want to welcome and love them. That’d be my thinking anyway…

The onus isn’t really on the asylum seekers to act as Christians when they’re approaching a country – unless they’re claiming to be Christians, in which case the decision to jump the queue is something they’ll have to wrestle with personally – the onus is on the country receiving them, if they claim in any sense to be Christian (which Abbott does), to be receiving the refugees in a Christian way. This is where Abbott went really wrong. The question was legitimate. Because caring for refugees, or any oppressed people, or any people, is a definite outworking of following Jesus.

Interestingly, Jesus echoes the Deuteronomic principle that people who are trying to be like God should be caring for the oppressed, he framed his understanding of his mission this way (quoting Isaiah):

16 He went to Nazareth, where he had been brought up, and on the Sabbath day he went into the synagogue, as was his custom. He stood up to read, 17 and the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was handed to him. Unrolling it, he found the place where it is written:

18 “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, 
    because he has anointed me
    to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners
    and recovery of sight for the blind,
to set the oppressed free,
19     to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”

20 Then he rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down. The eyes of everyone in the synagogue were fastened on him. 21 He began by saying to them, “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing.”
So. You might be thinking. It’s all well and good for Jesus to say this and apply it to his own ministry, if he is this refuge for the oppressed – but it doesn’t follow that it is “Christian” to love refugees.

You would be wrong.

Jesus rebukes the Pharisees in Luke 11 on the basis that they care for their religiosity but not for the poor.

39 Then the Lord said to him, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness. 40 You foolish people! Did not the one who made the outside make the inside also? 41 But now as for what is inside you—be generous to the poor, and everything will be clean for you.42 “Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone.”

Then, when he’s talking about how people who want to follow him should approach social conventions and the hosting of status building banquets, he makes it clear that his concern is on provision for the poor (Luke 14)…

12 Then Jesus said to his host, “When you give a luncheon or dinner, do not invite your friends, your brothers or sisters, your relatives, or your rich neighbors; if you do, they may invite you back and so you will be repaid. 13 But when you give a banquet, invite the poor, the crippled, the lame, the blind, 14 and you will be blessed. Although they cannot repay you, you will be repaid at the resurrection of the righteous.”

Then, when he’s talking about how his followers, Christians, will be distinguished from people not following him (unchristians?), he makes it clear that this is one of the markers of a Christian, someone whose thinking has been truly transformed by the Spirit as they follow Jesus.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’”

James follows suit.

27 Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.”

It’s pretty hard to maintain anything that looks like the policies of either of Australia’s major parties on “boat people” if you’re trying to take a Christian approach – the justification for taking a Christian approach is obviously quesitonable for the same reason that introducing any policy into a secular democracy for solely theological reasons is questionable. But we have every right to speak in the democratic process, and you’d hope such contributions would be framed by our theological reality, more than by political expediency, you’d hope we’d be the most compassionate voice out there, and call for something more than what our major parties are happy to settle for… and yet, when given the opportunity to make a statement following Abbott’s theological faux pas, here’s what Lyle Shelton from the ACL says:

“It is unfortunate that the term ‘Christian’ has been co-opted in the debate… I don’t want to say what is Christian and what is not, but it is important that our policies give people languishing in camps a fair go. We have to stop the people smugglers’ business model. We have to stop people perishing at sea.”

Could this organisation stoop any lower in its bid to represent as broad a church as possible? How bout defining Christian as “somebody who follows Jesus and holds to something representing the historic confessions of the church”? It’s not that hard. And this sort of waftiness is precisely why the ACL can’t claim to speak for anybody in particular. It’s also an issue that needs the  voice of Christians to offer some compassionate clarity.

It’s unfortunate Christianity has been misrepresented in the debate, but it’s more unfortunate we had to be co-opted, and haven’t been on the front line from the beginning (which notable exceptions have been – like Melbourne’s Crossway Church, which offered to care for unaccompanied minors who were at risk of being deported).

People who follow Jesus are refugees. People who follow Jesus are to love the oppressed, including refugees. This has to be the basis of a “Christian” response to the tragedy that leads people to flee their countries, and the tragedy that many of those people are turning to criminals and jumping on dangerous boats.