September 25, 2017

Australia needs to search its own heart on asylum seeker policy

Authors (from left to right) Lisa-Marie Tidona, Kara Brown, Georgia Robinson and Emilia Capello are Year 9 students at Santa Sabina College in Strathfield.

Authors (from left to right) Lisa-Marie Tidona, Kara Brown, Georgia Robinson and Emilia Capello are Year 9 students at Santa Sabina College in Strathfield.

People seeking international protection are asylum seekers. People who in their own countries have a well-founded fear of persecution, and who look for real avenues of protection elsewhere, are refugees.

According to the United Nations there are 65.3 million people displaced around the world. In 2015 Australia settled around 13,500 people – refugees and their families.

But at around 0.48 per cent of all refugees around the world we might ask ourselves, what have we really done to help those in need of protection? What do we need to do?

On the 12 August Year 9 students from Santa Sabina College Strathfield went on an excursion to the ‘In My Neighbourhood’ refugee camp exhibition at Auburn Council.

This was one incredible excursion where students immersed themselves in the struggles and stories of real people seeking refuge and asylum.

We are four of those Santa Sabina Year 9 students. We were inspired to make a change and to educate others about the issues that refugees and asylum seekers face.

We are determined to act on the Beatitudes that we are called to live out, and to help others think, see and act upon the crisis of refugees and asylum seekers currently facing the world.

The right to safety is universal. People who seek asylum are largely seeking protection from persecution in poor and developing countries. Studies show that the most common factors include the presence and intensity of armed conflicts, political terror, and extreme poverty.

Many children, commonly girls, are targets of violence and are obliged to flee their homes at a young age to access critical resources such as food and water.

International legal rules for seeking asylum recognise that people often flee persecution, leaving their homelands in order to cross perhaps multiple borders, without legal documents such as passports or visas. This reality is tacitly recognised in Australian law; lacking documents does not constitute a crime.

In certain cases of harm, however, it has been up to some non-government actors, such as the High Court, to step in to protect asylum seekers.

Sadly, injustice has often met those who look to Australia for help and they are put through more complications than international laws require.

There is a moral obligation to accept refugees into Australia. So why do we choose to create prejudice and stereotypes about refugees and asylum seekers? This not only reflects but affects our moral and ethical values as Australian citizens. Why do we choose to ignore their suffering?

The United Nations (UN) is a global co-operative body that works towards peace and goodwill in the world. The UN assists those seeking refuge through two different programs. The first is overseen by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). This agency is responsible for the safeguarding of rights and the wellbeing of refugees and asylum seekers. The UNHCR currently cares for 10.4 million refugees worldwide.

The second agency is the UN Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees (UNRWA) which cares for some five million refugees.

The UN is attempting to solve the migration crisis engulfing much of the world, but as a safe country which can offer refuge, what are we doing to solve injustice?

Australia is one of the most restrictive countries in the world when it comes to immigration. Our country places some asylum seekers in detention for an indefinite period. In 2014 the average time spent in a detention centre was 11 months and 20 days. Extended time in detention, especially for children, can have detrimental effects on their mental health. It is estimated that the cost to help heal that damage from time spent in detention centres is around $25,000 per person.

In 2012 a policy came into force that disqualified refugees and asylum seekers who arrive by boat from being able to work in Australia. What does this tell us about our progress in amending the damage we have done to these people?

More than 800,000 refugees and displaced persons have arrived in Australia since 1945.

The Beatitudes directly relate to refugees and asylum seekers, “Blessed are the poor in spirit for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Anyone can take on the role of the “asylum seeker”. No matter if you are highly successful in your own country, you may be the poorest in spirit. This Beatitude shows that hope will come to those who never give in. All of the Beatitudes follow the same message: those who are facing injustice on earth will obtain justice from God, and they make a call on the peacemakers (all human beings), all children of God, to recognise and embrace that reality. Show justice, compassion and righteousness for the sake of refugees and asylum seekers; they need our help.

Our initial moral and ethical impetus tells us to help in any way we can. But how do we achieve this? Where do we start?

To take action on this cause is not hard, but it does take some determination and persistence to fight for equality and for justice. We need to give voice to those who cannot speak or those who are scared to speak.

Refugees that arrive in Australia by boat or air without a valid visa have a halt placed on their lives. These people continue to be victims in their indefinite detention, especially those who arrive by boat. Is this fair?

On 31 May, 1570 refugees were detained in immigration detention centres in Australia and 529 of those had arrived by boat.

Thankfully, children are no longer held in facilities on the Australian mainland. However, there are still approximately 1500 children in the detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island – centres run in our name.

The question is: what is the Australian government doing about it? How are we, as a country, acting on this issue?

Organisations such as the Australian Refugee Committee, St Vincent de Paul and the Refugee Council of Australia strive to assist asylum seekers with employment, public education, settlement facilities and financial advice services. These amenities help immigrants to earn a living and support children with education.

We can donate to organisations such as the Australian Refugee Committee, the Refugee Council of Australia, St Vincent De Paul and many more incredible organisations.

You can become a member, donate, volunteer, sign petitions, contact politicians, join local campaigns and make a difference.

We can work with others to support a change to unfair circumstances in which some have the right to safety and a home, and others do not.

We cannot label people as illegal immigrants as they are real people seeking asylum – seeking refuge. We cannot let others suffer.

We are Year 9 students spreading the awareness that it is up to all of us as God’s children to make a change, for we are the ones who can take action. By living out the reality of the Beatitudes we can help people just like us find a place to call home.

Georgia, Kara, Emilia and Lisa-Marie are Year 9 students at Santa Sabina College, Strathfield.

 

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