In 2013, myself and 5 other cadets from Catherine Booth College, along with three staff, went to Manus Island, PNG, as part of our training, to work as part of The Salvation Army’s Humanitarian team working in the Manus Island Regional Processing Centre. Four years on, I’ve decided to share my diary from that experience. Names have been changed, and I acknowledge that the centre has changed a lot since then, but it is my hope that this will share a bit of light into how our government is treating Asylum Seekers.
6 February 2013. Left today. Flight to Carins, where we’ll stay over night, before an early flight to Port Moresby. When we got to the airport (in Melbourne), we read that there had been a Tsunami alert for PNG after an earthquake in the Solomon Islands. Thankfully cancelled by the time we got off the flight.
God a short call to Liesl in before bed. Annabelle came looking for me after childcare. She was sad I wasn’t there. But she did enjoy the video of me reading her story.
She was also playing Peekaboo with Granny via Facetime.
I’m going to miss so much this month, but I’m going to do so much as well.
Mentally – I’m ok, miss Liesl and Annabelle a bit. Will be tougher when I can’t contact them as readily.
It’s December 1st, 1955. A sensibly dressed woman in her forties gets on a bus in the early evening. Despite having spent all day bent over an ironing board in the basement tailor shop at Montgomery Fair department store, she carries her swollen feet and aching shoulders erectly. She sits in the first row of the Coloured section on the bus, and watches the bus fill with riders. Until, that is, the driver orders her to give her seat to a white passenger. Her response was just a single word, but that word was filled with so much meaning and started something that would only be realised later. She said, “No.”
The Story goes that Rosa Parks was tired of being pushed around and decided to sit down. For me, this is part of the story that resonates with me. After years of fighting for the rights of Asylum Seekers and Refugees in Australia, Christian leaders are tired. They have worked, and continue to work the political process. They have written letters, signed petitions, visited politicians on all sides of the spectrum, and still our nations treats those in the most need in ever increasingly worse ways. We are tired of fighting and getting nowhere.
So on Tuesday, I joined in with a movement of other tired Christian leaders, and with five others, we sat. We asked for a response, and got none. So we sat. We prayed. And we waited for a response.
We sat, asking the Senator to release a statement saying that it was abhorrent that there were 127 children in immigration detention. We offered for him to be a hero to these children, insisting to the Prime Minister and Immigration minister to release them and their families immediately. But we received no response. So we sat, and we prayed, and having received no response, we were eventually arrested.
So we sat in the Divvy van, knowing that while the police had treated us well, there were many in Manus Island and Nauru who have been treated harshly by security guards and police.
So we sat in the watch house, while the wonderful police officers promptly filled out the paperwork and processed us, knowing that there still has not been one asylum seeker claim that has been processed on Manus Island.
And as we walked free from the Police Station, into the waiting arms of our support crew, we go knowing that there are still 127 children locked away in immigration detention. That there are still over 2000 people locked away in immigration detention, many who have been there for over two years. And that while the boats may have appeared to have stopped, that there are still millions of people seeking protection and asylum all over our world, seeking safety from oppression.
Aside – My Love Makes A Way Action
I feel, at this point, that I need to step aside and clarify a few things that may have been raised in your mind. Firstly, this action has been a long time coming. I have been preparing myself for this action for over a year, and planning for this action started in April. I also sought, and received, approval and support to take part in this from both the Territorial Commander and the Divisional Commander. So I didn’t act on this alone, but with the approval and support of leadership. You may wonder why I hadn’t mentioned that I was intending to take this action. Part of it is that it is kept confidential, so as not to alert the senator and his office prior to the action. Another part is that it helps gain discussion throughout the community and social media, with people surprised that it is happening. This is a vital part to continue the discussion, as we aim to not only change the policy, but also to change the discussion within the community and within the church. And while we weren’t able to change the policy in this action, we are still able to change the discussion in the community and in the church. So feel free to come up and chat with me about anything relating to Asylum Seekers if you have any questions.
There are people in this world who are oppressed
The reality is that in our world today, there are many people who are oppressed. They are oppressed by people who have power. They have their rights taken away from them by people who have power. They could be asylum seekers seeking safety from war-torn countries. They could be the disabled, facing uncertainty about the level of support by a government intent on reducing our welfare bill. They could be Aboriginals, being pushed out of their traditional lands. That’s just a few situations that are happening right here in Australia, but there are thousands more all around the world. And quite often, people in those situations will think that they have no hope. How can they possibly change the world – they are, after all, just one person.
But that’s exactly what Jesus was teaching right here in this passage. Jesus was giving those people who were oppressed the opportunity to be seen as an equal. To give them some power back. How? Let me show you.
First, I need a volunteer. Now, back in Jesus’ day, there were very strict rules as to what you would do with your hands. One of the things is that you would only ever slap someone with your right hand. So, please put your left hand behind your back. Now, there are two ways to slap someone. Open handed, or back-handed. Now, Open handed slaps, they were for men of equal standing. Think of those days of old, or possibly in the movies, where someone would challenge another to a duel by slapping them. But a back-handed slap, that was for someone who was lower than you – a master slapping his slave for example.
So if you were only to use your right hand while slapping, and you were going to slap me on the right cheek, would you have to do it open-handed or back-handed? And this would be known by the crowd – if someone slapped you on the right cheek, it was because someone saw you as less than them. However, if you then turned the other cheek, forcing them to hit you on the left cheek – there was only two options for them. To slap you again, this time with an open hand, signifying you as equal, or to walk away, surrendering their position. In this way, Jesus was able to put power back into the hands of the powerless.
In the same way, if someone was suing you to take your coat – it was only because you had nothing else left to give. For someone to sue you for your coat means that they are so insistent on damaging you that they will take everything that you have. The cloak – that was effectively their last layer of clothing, it was the only thing giving them any dignity. So when Jesus says, give them your cloak, he was effectively saying for them to disrobe, to get naked. Why? Because it gave the powerless a voice. It was allowing the person being sued an opportunity to say to the oppressor, “look at what you are doing to me. You have reduced me to this – that I have no dignity left.” And by doing that, it forces the oppressor to think about what he is doing – to be the person that left someone naked (and lose standing in the community), or to give up his claim on the other person. Again, Jesus was putting power back into the hands of the powerless.
The final example Jesus gives is going the second mile. Now, we know that the Romans were occupying Israel at the time, and a Centurion was able to conscript a Jewish person to carry their pack for them, but only for the distance of one mile, no more. If it was carried further, then the Centurion was able to get in quite serious trouble. So if a Jew was to get to that one mile mark, and to just keep on walking, the Centurion would be running behind them, pleading with them to put the pack down. And with that, the power has once again gone from the powerful to the powerless.
Jesus gives us dignity through our choices
This is what Jesus was hoping to achieve through this. He wanted to give power to the powerless. To give them a dignity in life. And he offers that same dignity to us as well. It’s unlikely that you will be slapped in today’s age, and our understanding of position and customs are different from what they were back then. Taking off your cloak will not have the same effect that it did in Jesus’ day. And there aren’t any Roman Centurions around to force us to carry their packs. But through what Jesus is saying here, we can take his message and apply it to our own lives. In every situation, we have a choice on how we act. We can choose to act and show love to all people. We can choose to treat all people as equals. And we can choose to stand up and be a voice for those whose voices are oppressed by people in power. In Proverbs 31:8-9 it reads “Speak out for those who cannot speak, for the rights of all the destitute. Speak out, judge righteously, defend the rights of the poor and needy.” This is what God is all about – because we are all God’s creation, and we are all created equally in God’s image.
We can see all people equally, and love all people equally
When we start to see all people equally, we start to see them how God created them. When we start to see them how God created them, we start to understand that they deserve to be treated with the same love and respect that God shows us. The same love and respect that gave us dignity in our choices. The same love and respect that doesn’t force us to worship him, but invites us to come and worship him as we see fit. The same love and respect that sent his son to die for our sins, so that we could enter into a full relationship with him.
Go, love your neighbour, and all others
That same love that God shows us, he calls us to love each other. Because if God shows it to us, and we are all created equal, then we should show it to all others as well. So we need to Go out from our building here, and show love to all people that we meet. We need to give love and dignity to all people that we come in contact with, because that’s what God gives us. And whether we are the powerful or we are the powerless, we need to treat all people as equals.
What’s God telling you today? Maybe he’s asking you to speak out for those who have no voice. Maybe he’s showing you people who you need to treat with love and respect. Maybe he’s showing you a way to stand up and be treated with love and respect.
In our response time today, you’re welcome to come and pray about whatever it is that GOd has told you today. Maybe you just want to come and pray for the 127 children who are still in detention. Or maybe you want to come and pray for the children in our community who go to school without breakfast or lunch. To pray for those around the world suffering in war zones, or to pray for God’s creation, and the way it has been ravaged by humanity’s greed.
As we do that, you are invited to join in this song that says “God of the Poor, friend of the weak, give us compassion we pray. Melt our cold hearts, let tears fall like rain. Come, change our love from a spark to a flame.”
Zahra and Ali* were Iranian Christians, persecuted because of their faith, and had fled with their family to seek safety. After having spent some time on Christmas Island, they were moved to Manus Island, and it was here that I met them on one of my first shifts. They were sitting underneath a shelter, and in an attempt to escape the heat, I wandered over and said hello. They introduced themselves, and offered me a cup of tea. Despite the circumstances that they found themselves in, they knew the importance of being hospitable, and welcoming this stranger into what was effectively – for the time being – their home.
Over my time there, Zahra and Ali were the family that I connected with the most. Every shift, I would seek them out, to see how they were doing, and even just to sit with him and chat for a while. I still think of them often, and while I don’t know whether they are still in detention, or whether they have received visas, I pray that one day our paths may cross again. Continue reading Refugee Sunday
I’ve been reading Jim Wallis’ book, The Soul of Politics, and I got to one section and it really struck me how much it related to a recent change in tack in how the Australian Government treats Asylum Seekers. It’s from a section dealing with the inequality between gender, and Wallis tells a story from a report published in Sojourners magazine. Continue reading The importance of language
Dear Mr Abbott,
Firstly, congratulations on being elected our latest national leader. You ran a very professional campaign, and defeated an opposition who was trying hard not to implode, whilst trying to destroy themselves at the same time.
So you are now the elected official to lead our country into the next three years. And while I didn’t personally vote for you, and I don’t agree with many of your policies, I thought that I would share some advice from myself, of things I would like to see as the hallmarks of your time as prime minister. Continue reading An open letter to our new Prime Minister
Yesterday, Kevin Rudd announced his new asylum seeker policy, which included as a major point the change that no asylum seeker arriving by boat would be settled in Australia, but instead they would be sent to Papua New Guinea, processed by the PNG Government, and settled in PNG. Another announcement today saw an announcement that the Manus Island Detention Centre would be redeveloped to increase capacity to 3000.
All this from the Prime Minister who warned the Labor party against a lurch to the right on asylum seeker policy. I can only assume that Kevin Rudd meant that instead of a lurch to the right, you should jump so far past the right that we can’t even see the right.
There will be many articles written on why this new policy is bad. Here’s one looking at the numbers of why PNG is not a good solution. But it’s no use to just proclaim the policy bad. In order to fully participate in the debate, an alternative solution needs to be presented as well. This solution needs to not only be shaped on Australian values, but it must also address the issues that this new policy aims to address.
While the Asylum Seeker issue worldwide is a non-issue, here in Australia it is a major part of the political landscape. We need to find a new solution. So I went to look at what other countries do to process their Asylum Seekers. Continue reading A shameful day… but what else?
In the little sung second verse of the Australian National Anthem, we find the words, For those who come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share. However, despite this being part of our national anthem, part of the words that we claim to aspire towards, there is significant evidence that as a nation we are not willing to share the boundless plains that we have. Thankfully, there are also significant programs that are helping to share what we have with those that are new to our nation. Today we’re looking at some of the issues that Asylum Seekers and Refugees face in the area of Language.
Language is a major issue that affects how refugees and asylum seekers are able to integrate into a community. One journal article wrote that “English language proficiency has a direct and obvious impact on the ability of women to settle in Australia and on the length of time that process takes.” The authors of this article found that the majority of participants in a study attributed many of their problems as arising due to their language difficulties. The Department of Immigration and Citizenship does fund an Adult Migrant English Program, providing 510 hours of ESL tuition within the first five years of arrival. However, many have found that these programs are filled with cultural problems, such as mixed classes which make it uncomfortable for those who have come from countries where segregation was the norm.
Another difficulty is that the children often pick up English quicker than the parents. This forms more difficulties between children and parents, where the children know words in English, but are unable to explain it to their parents. This puts further strain on their parents, as they are unable to fully communicate with their children.
As indicated in the last post, the Australian Government’s new “no benefit” policy allows for asylum seekers to be placed in community detention, but they are unable to take part in employment, volunteer work, or to take part in ESL classes. As stated above, this means that those in this situation are unlikely to integrate into the community at any stage. It is a very disturbing policy, that makes the life for those in this situation very difficult.
In the little sung second verse of the Australian National Anthem, we find the words, For those who come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share. However, despite this being part of our national anthem, part of the words that we claim to aspire towards, there is significant evidence that as a nation we are not willing to share the boundless plains that we have. Thankfully, there are also significant programs that are helping to share what we have with those that are new to our nation. Today we’re looking at some of the issues that Asylum Seekers and Refugees face in the area of Employment.
Employment is one of the major issues and concerns of Asylum Seekers and Refugees, because they do not want to feel like they are a burden on the community. Those who are not permitted to work (because of Temporary Protection Visa’s or conditions placed on their community based detention) find themselves feeling demoralised or despaired at their inability to contribute to Australian Society. Those who are able to seek employment often find discrimination either in the application process, or within the job itself. One Sudanese woman said “At work, the white Australian nurses give me the heaviest and messiest duties to do. Some talk down to me and others just don’t take notice of me and ignore me.”
The Australian Human Rights Commission visited those who were living in community detention. During those visits, they found that “opportunities for self-reliance and meaningful activities are critical to rebuilding resilience amongst asylum seekers, refugees and stateless persons.” Providing meaningful employment can be a very strong way of enabling refugees and asylum seekers to feel a part of their new community.
With this in mind, the Australian Government’s new “No Benefit” policy is incredibly worrying. Basically, what the government can do is give some asylum seekers a temporary protection visa, which does not allow them to work, volunteer, or even take part in ESL classes. This effectively removes them from society, and adds shocking results for their mental health, because not only are they sitting around doing nothing, but they feel bad about having to rely on people and agencies for their survival.
In the little sung second verse of the Australian National Anthem, we find the words, For those who come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share. However, despite this being part of our national anthem, part of the words that we claim to aspire towards, there is significant evidence that as a nation we are not willing to share the boundless plains that we have. Thankfully, there are also significant programs that are helping to share what we have with those that are new to our nation. Over the next few posts, we’ll look at some of the issues that those coming to our country faces in the areas of housing, employment, language and health. We’ll then look at what’s currently happening, particularly in regional areas, and what possible future approaches we can make to share our boundless plains.
There are a number of issues relating to housing in the resettlement of asylum seekers and refugees. The Brotherhood of St Laurence found that in Shepparton, cheap housing was initially plentiful, it since has become scarce. Housing that was available is often of poor quality, and within a system that is difficult for asylum seekers and refugees to understand. This makes exploitation by real estate agents a common occurrence. There are multiple stories of families with many children being placed in houses with only two or three bedrooms. In a Sudanese community in Colac, the Brotherhood of St Laurence again found a lack of public housing, and difficulties in getting private rentals. Initial settlement costs are another concern, with essential items such as a fridge, beds or blankets being difficult to source from a local Migrant Resource Centre. Where public housing was available, it was often shared amongst a number of families. One woman said “the way we live now, we don’t have plans because we are living together, three families in the one house.” Stress in the area of housing makes it difficult for asylum seekers to feel settled within a community.
Stay tuned for the next post, where we discuss some of the issues that asylum seekers and refugees face in the area of Employment. In the mean time, I’d love to hear any stories that you have about housing difficulties for asylum seekers and refugees, and any thoughts about how we can be more open to sharing the boundless plains of our nation.
The ABC is reporting that the United Nation High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) has warned the Australian Government that the Malaysian refugee swap deal may result to “arbitrary and unlawful detention under international law.”
Australia is saying they will go ahead with the deal anyway, and are currently looking for a third country to take refugees. I’m very disappointed with this news, as we are very clearly saying “we don’t care about international law.” Considering that its international law that governs human rights, and how we treat asylum seekers I’m worried that we may set a precedent for us to do worse things to asylum seekers. Continue reading Malaysia deal amounts to “arbitary and unlawful detention”
Acknowledgement of Country
I acknowledge that I live and work on land for which the Whadjuk Noongar people are the traditional owners and custodians. I pay my respects to elders past, present and emerging. I also respect any Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples from other lands.