Fr Peter Smith: The cost of ‘stay away’

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Afghan refugees ride a bus taking them to a processing centre in the US on 25 August, 2021. PHOTO: CNS/KEVIN LAMARQUE, REUTERS

Those who donated to Archbishop’s appeal have courageously gone against the tide

What have we become? Every so often, like a lightning strike on a darkened landscape, a nation gets to see itself clearly and unadorned. These can be moments of stunning heroism or brutal inhumanity. It doesn’t last very long and is soon swallowed up in spin and propaganda and self-interest. Nevertheless we are in just such a moment right now.

Last year 96,600 people left our country – the biggest exodus from Australia since World War I. This year we can expect an immigration number of minus 77,400. In August this year, 4900 people moved to Australia as permanent or long-term residents while 15,700 Australians left the country.

You can see where this is going. Because our economic growth has been so reliant on immigration for the last few decades, Fitch Ratings believes the economy will be 2 per cent – or more than $40 billion – smaller by 2026 than it otherwise would have been because of the drop in migrant numbers.

This has very real consequences for all of us. The OECD released a report last week that found Australia would experience a decline in living standards over the next decade because of these low numbers in immigration. Of the 38 rich nations examined by the OECD, Australia’s potential GDP per person would be eclipsed by 27 countries including New Zealand, the United States, Greece and Belgium.

Unsurprisingly, the Australian Chamber of Commerce has called for skilled migration to double to 200,000 and the newly appointed NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet has said he wants a “big NSW”. At first glance all of this looks very sensible.

Sensible until you realise there are 30,000 people living in NSW on Temporary Protection Visas desperate to work here and put down roots. Except they are not allowed to do so. Then there’s the 100,000 people, many of the nation’s most educated and resourced, desperate to come here from Afghanistan. Except they can’t get out and apparently the Australian government is unable to ensure their passage or their visas.

I suspect what we have become as a nation is because it appears we no longer consider asylum seekers worthy of protection and welcome. It’s not enough that they lose their families, their homelands and their future. In Australia we finally strip them of their very humanity.

I suspect what we have become as a nation is because we no longer consider asylum seekers worthy of protection and welcome. It’s not enough that they lose their families, homes and future … – Fr Peter Smith

The federal government does not discuss the proposition that the state allow those who are in Australia be allowed to work, be allowed the permanent protection which the Refugee Convention imagines, be allowed the joy of being reunited with their children and their grandparents. It is as if they are ghost people – hidden in our communities not considered in national conversations.

That’s why I am so proud of how generously the Catholic community have responded to the Archbishop’s Afghanistan Appeal and to the call out from the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum and JRS during this year’s National Week of Prayer and Action.

Over the last few weeks in Sydney alone, 542 leaders leading Catholic delegations on the Afghanistan crisis in nine electorates have signed nine letters to MPs and Senators. These delegations included school students, nuns, priests, congregational leaders, CEOs, mayors, and parish council leaders.

Each of these letters will go to the Minister for Immigration, Citizenship, Migrant Services and Multicultural affairs with the list of signatories and a narrative of the Catholic response at all levels. In our office we are working with the House of Welcome, JRS and parishes across Port Macquarie to create rural homes and jobs for asylum seekers.

This is not all one way because part of the pilot would be introducing people to those who live alone, who need a bit of support in their own homes to stay there. This is how communities are built around our different needs and hopes and dreams.

Every phone call, email and visit we make advocating for those who come seeking our protection doesn’t only help asylum seekers, perhaps as importantly, it keeps our own humanity alive. It reminds us that we all come to our God empty handed and in need of the interdependent love of each other, for each other. Without this we forget we that are relevant, we are all to included, we are all so deeply loved by a God who makes the sun shine on the good and the bad.

You can still donate to The Archbishops Afghan Refugee Appeal at https://www.ourfaithourworks.org/ara/