Friday 11 September 2015

I Was a Stranger and You Welcomed Me

germany-word-refugee-day-2 crop

Berliners welcome refugees this week, where Germany may resettle up to 800,000 asylum seekers.

The Abbott government is to be applauded on the softening of its position on welcoming Syrian asylum seekers into our nation and into our communities.  And, if we follow the invitation of the Holy Father, perhaps into our homes.  Riverview, too, will be exploring that option.  It is an encouraging beginning, but the challenge is of enormous proportions still. Some reflections follow.

“Australia will boost its refugee intake by 12,000 permanent places for victims fleeing the Syrian crisis.  This one-off refugee intake is over and above the 13,750 scheduled for settlement in Australia this year.  Australia will also make an additional contribution of $44 million to pay for the support of 240,000 displaced people in the region.”

– The Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs this week

Meanwhile … “Australia’s $55 million operation to resettle hundreds of refugees from the tiny Pacific island of Nauru to Cambodia appears to have collapsed. …. A senior Cambodian official says the impoverished nation has no plans to receive any more than four refugees who arrived in Phnom Penh in June, and indicated it did not want any more.

“We don’t have any plans to import more refugees from Nauru to Cambodia,” Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak told the Cambodia Daily.  “I think the less we receive the better,” he said.  [No Cambodian official has since contradicted the spokesman’s statement.]  Under a controversial agreement with Australia, the Cambodian regime has the right to decide how many refugees are resettled from Nauru.

The regime will pocket an additional $40 million in development aid from Australian taxpayers, no matter how many arrive in the country.”

– The Sydney Morning Herald last week

“Contrary to government assertions, Australia does not take more refugees on a per capita basis than any other nation.  The vast majority – somewhere around 86% – of the world’s refugees are hosted by developing nations, usually near to the one they have fled.  The countries that host the greatest number of refugees are: Turkey, 1.58 million; Pakistan, 1.5 million; and Lebanon, 1.15 million.

Australia currently hosts 35,000 refugees, ranking it 48th of 187 countries. These are people who are here as recognised refugees but have not yet been given a permanent home here.

However, Australia does, on a per capita basis, take the largest proportion of refugees under the UNHCR’s resettlement program.  Resettlement is the process of transferring recognised refugees from the country where they initially sought refuge to a third country that has agreed to accept them.  But formal resettlement represents only a tiny fraction of the world’s refugee program, less than 1%.

In terms of refugee numbers per thousand people in the country of asylum, Australia ranked 67th of 161 countries in 2014 with 1.5 refugees per 1000 Australians.  Lebanon occupies first place with more than 250 refugees per 1,000 population (one quarter of the population).”

– The Guardian (Australian edition) this week.

“Faced with the tragedy of tens of thousands of refugees fleeing death on account of war and hunger, and who are traveling toward a hope for life, the Gospel calls us to be ‘neighbours’ to the smallest and abandoned, [and] to give them a concrete hope … [it is not enough just to say] “Courage, patience!”

Therefore, in the imminence of the Year of Mercy, I make an appeal to the parishes, to religious communities, to monasteries, and sanctuaries of all Europe to express the concreteness of the Gospel, and to welcome a family of refugees.”

– Pope Francis this week

“As a nation, we harm innocent people by detaining them, pushing back their boats and transferring them to other impoverished nations. We pretend that the pain and diminishment of one group of people, including children, is a justifiable price to pay for sending a message to others. This policy dishonours the human dignity of people who seek protection and denies the truth of their humanity.”

– Andrew Hamilton SJ in Eureka Street this week

“When an alien lives with you in your land, do not mistreat him. The alien living with you must be treated as one of your native born.   Love him as yourself for you were aliens in Egypt.  I am the Lord your God.”

– God speaking to the Hebrew people (Leviticus 19: 33-34)

“Anyone who thinks that politics and religion don’t mix is not reading the same Bible I am.”

– Archbishop Desmond Tutu

So let us pray in thanks for this opportunity that has come our way, for this graced moment. And pray, too, for creative minds and generous hearts to respond.

Fr Ross Jones, SJ