Our land of refuge?
South Australia has a long and rich history of welcoming and assisting those people who have been forced to flee their homeland and refugees and asylum seekers have become an important part of the Australian landscape, often transforming and enriching communities with enthusiasm, cultural colour and heritage.
The previous Labor Government’s plan to resettle asylum seekers in Papua New Guinea divided the community.
Some people have compared it to John Howard’s hard line on the Tampa which won the 2001 election for the Liberal Party.
The majority of asylum seekers picked up by the Tampa and shipped to Nauru were then later granted refugee status and resettled in Australia or New Zealand.
The ‘PNG Solution’ ensures that this will not happen and many peole fear what asylum seekers shipped to and processed and eventually resettled in PNG can expect?
How can they possibly receive the assistance and services that have been provided to asylum seekers who have eventually settled in Australia?
Archbishop Jeffrey Driver, Chair of the Anglican Church’s Refugee Network, has been consistently critical of the PNG Solution describing it as “politically driven, based on popular myth, and inhumane”.
“The policy claims to address the risks to people arriving by boat, yet it comes into play only after people have made the dangerous journey to Australia by boat,” the Archbishop says.
“It focuses on people who arrive without visas, yet it does not recognise that in many of the places people flee from, it is dangerous even to be seen approaching Western embassies seeking a visa.
“This policy plays to the myth that somehow boat arrivals have ‘jumped the queue’, but in the disorderly and dangerous world of displaced people there is often simply no queue to jump. People do what they can to save their own lives and the lives of people they love.”
“Once refugees have touched Australian territory, whether by land or sea, they come under Australian jurisdiction through the UN Refugee Convention and should have their claims processed within Australian national territory at locations where they have access to a full range of support services.
“The Federal Government’s policy seeks to address the problem of people smugglers by abusing their victims.”
Friendship and support are provided and for people who had belonged to a church in their own land, a sense of familiarity is hugely important.
PNG is frequently described as a “failed” or “fragile” state and tourists are warned to exercise a “high degree of caution” because of the high rate of serious crime. And into such a complicated environment, Australia is now sending the world’s most fragile people – refugees.
“Australia has international obligations to protect the human rights of all asylum seekers and refugees who arrive in Australia, regardless of how or where they arrive and whether they arrive with or without a visa,” Archbishop Driver says.
“As a party to the Refugee Convention, Australia has agreed to ensure that asylum seekers who meet the definition of a refugee are not sent back to a country where their life or freedom would be threatened. This is known as the principle of non-refoulement.”
Those trying to settle into a new life in PNG will probably come from Sri Lanka, Iran or another Middle Eastern country.
Some will be Muslim: PNG, like Australia, is a predominately Christian country.
Most won’t speak English as their first language, nor will they speak one of the more than 800 local languages spoken in PNG.
They will need to find somewhere to live, get a job and send their kids to school.
Land and jobs are scarce in Papua New Guinea and while PNG might be a developing country it certainly isn’t cheap to live there.
In a country where most people grow their own food and make do with what they can, store-bought food and other goods have to be imported and are horrendously expensive.
Can we really expect Papua New Guineans to effectively offer shelter and protection to the world’s most vulnerable people? How can we expect PNG to suddenly find the room to give refugees a house, a job, and a school for their kids to go to?
“Support structures throughout the Adelaide Diocese have for a long time encouraged churches to support asylum seekers through programs like the Homestay Program and by providing “homemaker kits”,” Archbishop Driver says.
“These kits are simple parcels of household goods that help to transform houses into homes. Many of these kits are being made for distribution through Anglicare and they are greatly valued because it is often the little things that make a house a home.”
“Parishes also support language education, home-skill training and the provision of programs for young people.”
As an agency of the Church, Anglicare is involved with the provision of housing to refugees as well as a range of support programs.
A number of Anglican schools also provide special places for students from refugee families.
Anglicare SA chief executive officer The Reverend Peter Sandeman says Anglicare’s Refugee Housing Service helps to house and re-settle more than 1000 newly-arrived humanitarian refugees into South Australia each year.
But Anglicare does more than just providing shelter and furniture – it also provides support to new arrivals to adapt and to their new country.
“The Federal Government’s policy seeks to address the
problem of people smugglers by abusing their victims.”
“When newly-arrived humanitarian refugees arrive in SA they are usually tired, frightened and disoriented,” The Rev’d Sandeman says.
“Anglicare provides them sufficient culturally-appropriate and nutritious food to see them through to their first Centrelink payment, we provide orientation to their house and safe use of appliances, assist them to understand the local area and everyday practical issues we might take for granted, such as how to use rubbish and recycling bins and that bartering is not a practice you can use at a supermarket.
“Ultimately we help prepare new arrivals to live safely, integrate into the community and then transition out of Anglicare housing into the “real world” of public or community housing or private rental homes, and on to active and fulfilling lives in South Australia.”
Anglican leaders, community agencies and organisations across the country stepped up their criticisms of both major parties’ policies on asylum seekers and refugees leading into the last Federal Election.
St Paul’s Cathedral and the Brotherhood of St Laurence jointly sponsored a seven-metre banner proclaiming “Let’s Fully Welcome. Refugees” attached to one of the Cathedral spires. Five other Australian Anglican cathedrals, including St Peter’s Adelaide, have joined the campaign.
Announcing the “Let’s fully welcome refugees” campaign Melbourne Archbishop Philip Freier described the Government’s recent policy responses as “very much at the end of the line”.
“I think… when we have regional solutions offered to us, they’re not ones that have the hallmarks of really careful cooperation with our regional partners,” Archbishop Frier says.
“We don’t seek to proclaim that there is one solution based on Christian principles but we want to say that the solutions being proposed can also be critiqued on Christian principles.”
What will provide a long-term solution to our asylum challenge is the tried and tested Australian approach to migration, affirmed with pride in our national anthem: ‘For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share’.
This approach, practised since the pioneer-days, has shown how integration can create a strong, and diverse society.
The refugees who are assisted by Australian churches and church agencies want nothing more than to be able to become active contributors to our vibrant nation.
This is why St Peter’s, and many other Anglican Cathedrals and dioceses throughout this nation, is saying to our political leaders ‘Let’s fully welcome refugees!’.