Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #3: PNG is violent and dangerous—Rudd’s policy is harsh and selfish.

Leunig

Leunig

The intention to send all asylum seekers to PNG convinces me that the new policy is motivated by selfish national interest, and desperation for political popularity. This blog is the third 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.

According to the new policy, all asylum seekers arriving by boat will be sent to PNG with the intention that they be resettled there. Yet PNG is unlikely to be a secure place for refugees. In a letter to the former Minister for Immigration Chris Bowen, the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Antonio Guterres, has expressed seven serious reservations regarding PNG as a suitable place for asylum seekers (read his letter here). As refugee advocate and lawyer David Manne has said, ‘All the independent evidence points to PNG being … a place where there is widespread and pervasive violence, including against women, and serious and ongoing daily human rights abuse.’[i] Indeed PNG is a country from which people flee daily, as refugees (the author is friends with a refugee claimant from Port Moresby). Further, the Government’s own Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade issued a series of warnings to travellers to PNG:

We advise you to exercise a high degree of caution in Papua New Guinea because of the high levels of serious crime.

(There’s the first of thirteen warnings). Also, the week on which Rudd announced the new regional agreement, the PNG military attacked the medical faculty of the University of PNG—displaying the unrestrained and unpredictable behaviour of the PNG military.

How can Australian Government intend to settle thousands of vulnerable people in PNG under these conditions? PNG is dangerous for many of its own citizens, not to mention the likelihood of increased violence toward refugees due to ethnic differences and so on. Resettlement in an unstable and potentially dangerous place is hardly in keeping with Rudd’s stated intention of concern for refugee safety. This selfish policy leaves me concerned that the hearts of the Australian Labour and Liberal parties, as a whole, are calloused with limited capacity for compassion. Read Maria O’Sullivan’s discussion of the suitability of PNG as a destination for refugees here.

Now let’s observe the radical welcome to which Scripture calls humanity [what follows is taken my article: Ancient Laws and Canadian Refugee Legislation: Evaluating Bill C-31 in Light of the Book of Deuteronomy[i]].

The Hebrew word behind the Old Testament words – ‘stranger’, ‘alien’ and ‘sojourner’ – is (usually) ‘ger’. The noun ‘ger’, in Deuteronomy, describes someone who is both ethnically displaced and economically vulnerable. The circumstances of the ‘ger’ in Deuteronomy may be further clarified as being in a dependant relationship with the Israelites with whom she lives. In Deuteronomy ‘ger’ (‘stranger’) occurs twenty-one times, indicating the importance of ethics concerning the stranger for this book.

There are two main narrative trajectories, so to speak, that undergird Deuteronomy’s ethic toward the stranger. The first is that God has generously given land and its produce to Israel and this gift is to be shared. Ancient Israel’s worldview begins with a gift: at the heart of reality is a God of limitless generosity. In turn Israel is to respond with thanksgiving and generosity. These three dimensions – gift, thanksgiving and generosity/inclusion – are all joyfully displayed at the seasonal harvest festivals that Israel shares – at the sanctuary. Israel is commanded:

And you shall rejoice before the LORD your God, you and your son and your daughter, your male servant and your female servant, the Levite who is within your towns, the stranger, the fatherless, and the widow who are among you… (16:11. See also 16:14; 26:11)

Thus Deuteronomy’s social program can be summarised well with the words of Craig Blomberg: ‘God owns it all, and wants everybody to be able to enjoy some of it.’[ii]

The second ‘story’ undergirding Deuteronomy’s ethic towards the stranger is Israel’s own history of being a ‘stranger’ or ‘refugee’.[iii] This story begins with the displacement of Israel’s fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (26:5). It is exemplified with Israel as a ‘stranger’ in Egypt in the time of Jacob and Joseph (eg 26:5). When Israel was residing as a stranger in Egypt, Egypt did not offer Israel the hospitality she would have desired, but oppressed her with slavery (eg 26:6-7). The LORD her God delivered Israel from Egypt’s slavery and gave her laws that would shape a new society in which every person can thrive, as a deliberate response to Egypt’s oppression (eg 26:8-11). That history is the background for this famous passage, along with many others:

[The LORD your God] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving him food and clothing. Love the stranger, therefore, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt. (10:18-19)

In light of these two powerful stories of the LORD’s deliverance and provision, it is no surprise that Deuteronomy’s ethic concerning the ‘stranger’ is an ethic of radical welcome.

An examination of all the details of Israel’s responsibility toward the ‘stranger’ would require a substantial book, so for now I briefly note two aspects of their responsibility: First, as Deuteronomy’s laws unfold it becomes apparent that the implications of the command to ‘love the stranger’ include welcoming the stranger into whatever town they might wish to live (23:15-16). Second, individual families in Israel have the responsibility to include the stranger in their agricultural and cultural lives, including the most joyful events on their calendar: annual journeys to the sanctuary in order to celebrate with feasting and joy (16:11, 14; 26:11).

Deuteronomy’s ethics of radical welcome are appropriated for the church through the death and resurrection of Christ. In his death Christ has demolished sin’s curse and in his resurrection Christ lives as the firstfruits of this world renewed: a future of restored relationship and of flourishing. For now the church is called to live as signs to Christ’s world-beautifying, restorative reign.

Biblical ethics regarding the stranger are radically at odds with Australian refugee policy and roundly condemn Rudd’s new policy as immoral. If the Australian church’s witness to Christ is to be authentically biblical, and if it is to be heeded in society, then the church must carefully attend to biblical ethics regarding the stranger and both advocate for, and model, the radical welcome of Christ.

[If you found this blog helpful, would you please share it? And if you would like to follow these blogs, please press ‘follow’ at the top of the screen.]

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.

Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies#1: Disingenuous Rhetoric

Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #2: Excise the Australian mainland from the migration zone

Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #3: PNG is violent and dangerous—Rudd’s policy is harsh and selfish.

Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #4: Australia is not pulling its weight in refugee settlement.

Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #5: A positive policy solution


[i] Mark Glanville, “Ancient Laws and New Canadian Refugee Legislation: Evaluating Bill C-31 in Light of the Book of Deuteronomy,” Refuge 29 (2013).

[ii] Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions  (Illinois: Apollos, 1999), 241.

[iii] Nathan MacDonald, Not Bread Alone: The Uses of Food in the Old Testament  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 93f.

[i] Bianca Hall  Hall and Jonathan Swan, “Rudd Slams Door on Refugees,” n.p. [cited July 23 2013]. Online: http://www.smh.com.au/national/rudd-slams-door-on-refugees-20130719-2qa5b.html#ixzz2ZcCFviuN.

[ii] Craig Blomberg, Neither Poverty nor Riches: A Biblical Theology of Possessions  (Illinois: Apollos, 1999), 241.

[iii] Nathan MacDonald, Not Bread Alone: The Uses of Food in the Old Testament  (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 93f.

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About Mark Glanville

Mark Glanville is a pastor-scholar who ministers in a missional urban community, Grandview Church, Vancouver. Mark is Professor of Old Testament and congregational studies at the Missional Training Center, Phoenix (missionaltraining.org), and he teaches at Regent College, Vancouver. Mark's research focusses upon the Pentateuch, biblical ethics, and mission. Mark has authored a book on Exodus (Lexham, forthcoming), numerous refereed articles (including in the Journal of Biblical Literature, forthcoming) and chapters on the Pentateuch, mission, and refugee related issues, as well as numerous popular articles. Mark is presently co-authoring a book, "Providing Refuge: A Missional and Political Theology." Mark is regularly called upon to speak on in Canada, the U.S., and Australia. His previous career was as a jazz pianist in Sydney, Australia (Chick Corea and Wynton Kelly are his musical heroes).
This entry was posted in deuteronomy, ethnicity and the bible, justice, old testament ethics, politics, stranger/alien/outsider/refugee and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #3: PNG is violent and dangerous—Rudd’s policy is harsh and selfish.

  1. Pingback: Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #1: Disingenuous Rhetoric | …for he has made you beautiful

  2. Pingback: Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #2: Excise the Australian mainland from the migration zone | …for he has made you beautiful

  3. guereza2wdw says:

    ” The first is that God has generously given land and its produce to Israel and this gift is to be shared.” Yes but where was that generosity towards the original inhabitants?

    I don’t see Abram as being displaced from his land but that he moved in accordance with God’s command. Sure Abram lived as a stranger in the land to which he moved.

    We sent our children to CRC related elementary schools, My wife is a grad of the Institute for Christian Studies. When we lived in California for 4 years we attended a CRC church. Now we attend a CRC church.
    -My observation is that some/many CRC people are quite racist and culturally biased. If you ain’t Dutch you ain’t much. Many of our churches don’t even welcome people of European background let alone boat people.
    -In our current church I only know of one other person who is hands on involved with street people etc, sure lots work at places like Bibles for Missions but few actually get their hands dirty with the homeless etc.. In fact when we first started attending many people were afraid to visit us due to their fear of being mugged etc.
    -We are good at producing the kind of study you have done (and I am sure it is valuable) but not with dealing with our own attitudes and behaviour or with other immediately pressing problems like the aboriginal peoples. I live two blocks from one of the big down town street missions and periodically I take our small dog and walk around the mission talking with the residents. The most recognizable group are the Indians who are present in numbers way out of all proportion to their numbers in Canada. As I see it the current manner of dealing with the Indians is racist and paternalistic over the long run and has failed. What we really need are studies as to how God’s justice might be applied in helping us to find a way forward and a way to motivate our people to actually get involved not just with helping organizations but one on one.
    DaveW

  4. guereza2wdw says:

    My point is that the Indian situation needs much more thought as we have been trying to deal with that issue for a very long time and so far have failed. Also this problem highlights how difficult it is to merge radically different cultures. Second accepting refugees is still important and I have worked with Ethiopian refugees helping them get settled etc. Naturally I am drawn to them as I spoke the language fluently at one time and still manage a bit and the culture they bring with them is very familiar as I grew up there.

    Also I was not trying to pick on the CRC and the Dutch, some churches in the Presbyterian Church in Canada have many of the same kind of issues but to them the ideal is Scotland, Ireland and Wales. In a former church a minister from Italy was not acceptable whereas one from the old country would have been. As a William Wallace I have good Scottish credentials and wore my tam to demonstrate that fact while also supporting the Italian candidate for minister.
    DaveW

  5. guereza2wdw says:

    If we can’t assimilate (in some sense) the native people what makes us think that we can assimilate refugees. The current situation is not good for either the Indians or the rest of us Canadians. By assimilate the Indians I mean set up some reasonable arrangement where both groups can thrive and prosper.
    DaveW

  6. Pingback: Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #4: Australia is not pulling its weight in refugee settlement. | …for he has made you beautiful

  7. Pingback: Australian Refugee Policy for Dummies #5: A positive policy solution | …for he has made you beautiful

  8. Pingback: The PNG Solution and Biblical Ethics – an new article with Eternity Newspaper | …for he has made you beautiful

  9. Pingback: New article with CASE magazine: Laws of Inclusion and Strategies of Exclusion | …for he has made you beautiful

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