This is the second in a series of blogs that seek to explain Australian refugee policy and to offer critique from culture and scripture. These blogs are prompted by the Rudd Government’s recent decision to remove all asylum seekers arriving on Australian shores by boat, to Papua New Guinea, and also to deny all of these people any chance of being settled in Australia. I hope they are helpful.
This latest policy builds upon prior legislation, in particular a law passed in May 2013, to excise the entire Australian mainland from the migration zone. This step allows the Australian Government to circumvent their legal obligation to offer refuge to refugees seeking asylum within the country. The Refugee Convention, which Australia is a signatory to, requires signatory nations to offer refuge to those seeking asylum from persecution, within their borders, who satisfy certain criteria as a ‘refugee’. This legislation sidesteps that requirement by stipulating that, even though Australia is a signatory state, the Australian mainland doesn’t count—it is as if the refugees never arrived!
The step to excise the Australian mainland from the migration zone denies refugees their internationally recognised legal rights to seek asylum. Australia is the first signatory to the Refugee Convention to take such a step and if other countries followed there would be little protection left for vulnerable people fleeing persecution.
Old Testament law is relentlessly concerned with the protection of vulnerable people. In the biblical book of Deuteronomy this includes insistence upon just legal processes. Legal conniving leaves vulnerable people helpless and is expressly forbidden in Deuteronomy.
Justice, and only justice, you shall follow, that you may live and inherit the land that the Lord your God is giving you (Deuteronomy 16:20).
‘Justice’, for Deuteronomy, must be defined carefully: justice does not only refer to ‘strict legal justice’, but also to the protection of the most vulnerable.[i] The preceding verse acknowledges the ever-present tendency of those in power to act for their own self-interest:
You shall not pervert justice. You shall not show partiality, and you shall not accept a bribe… (Deuteronomy 16:19)
For Deuteronomy, laws and legal systems are for the protection of the most vulnerable and legal machinations that promote the interests of the wealthy at the expense of vulnerable people are an abomination to God. Thus this legislation that sidesteps its agreed responsibility toward asylum seekers represents legal conniving that is reprehensible in light of Deuteronomy’s ethics.
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Blogs and articles in this series (Australian asylum seeker policy, Aug-Sept, 2013):
Laws of Inclusion and Strategies of Exclusion: New Australian Asylum Seeker Policy Under the Scrutiny of Deuteronomy, published with CASE magazine.
Loving the Stranger, published with the Centre for Public Christianity.
The PNG solution and Biblical Ethics, published with Eternity Newspaper.
[i] See Deuteronomy 10:17-18; 24:17-18.