Rudd’s new policy is accompanied by a rise in his popularity. Why? A perception in Australia is that the country is being ‘swamped’ by asylum seekers and is asked to settle far more refugees than its fair share. ‘In Australia, a country surrounded by water, the metaphor of swamping waves is used unrelentingly in news media about asylum seekers arriving by boat’.[i] This rhetoric produces fear about unusually high numbers of asylum seekers overtaking Australia.
Yet immigration statistics tell a different story. In 2011-12, 14,620 people were admitted into Australia on humanitarian grounds, only 6% of the total overseas admission into Australia, which totalled 245,270. Australia extends a warm welcome to immigrants with wealth and education but is resistant to welcoming vulnerable people seeking refuge from persecution.
By comparison, recently, over two million refugees have fled Syria due to civil war, receiving impressive hospitality within Jordan, Lebanon, Turkey, Iraq and Egypt. Millions of refugees have been hosted by Kenya due to local conflicts, and Pakistan has become home to over two million Afghan refugees. Calculated relative to total national gross domestic product (GDP), Australia is ranked 52nd as a recipient of refugees.[ii] Former Refugee Council of Australia CEO Paul Power said recently:
From time to time, I hear people involved in public debate suggest that Australia’s values could somehow be under threat from people coming from outside the country. Perhaps our national values could be enhanced by a greater understanding of Arabic and Turkish hospitality.[iii]
Scripture insists upon a radical welcome for displaced people seeking a home. In offering generosity and welcome we acknowledge that the Lord has been generous to us. The text that is perhaps the best known in scripture regarding the stranger is found in Deuteronomy:
He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the stranger, giving them food and clothing. Love the stranger, therefore, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).
The text indicates that Old Testament Israel was to ‘love’ the stranger, as Yahweh loves the stranger. It is clear from the text that loving the stranger includes providing for them materially, offering help with food and clothing. Also, ‘love’ (Hebrew: ‘ahav’) is a technical word in the Old Testament for covenant commitment—which means a committed relationship that is expressed in action.
Furthermore, while Australian immigration policy favours those with wealth and education, biblical ethics insists that vulnerable people are prioritised—and it resists practices that privilege the rich (e.g. Deuteronomy 15:4).
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 by compassionate Australians, then the church must carefully attend to biblical ethics regarding the stranger and both advocate for, and model, the radical welcome of Christ.
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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] Goheen Glanville, Erin E., “Storied Displacement, Storied Faith: Engaging Church-Based Activism in Canada with Refugee Fiction and Diaspora Studies” (2012). Open Access Dissertations and Theses. Paper 7225, page 198. http://digitalcommons.mcmaster.ca/opendissertations/7225198
[ii] UNHCR, “Global Trends,” n.p. [cited July 23 2013]. Online: http://unhcr.org/globaltrendsjune2013/UNHCR%20GLOBAL%20TRENDS%202012_V05.pdf. Australia comes 22nd calculated per capita. Refugee Council of Australia, “Australia’s Refugee Response Not the Most Generous But in the Top 25,” n.p. [cited July 23 2013]. Online: http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/n/mr/130719_GlobalStats.pdf.
[iii] Paul Power, “Middle East Provides an Impressive Lesson in Hospitality,” n.p. [cited July 17 2013]. Online: http://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/n/mr/130613-MiddleEast.pdfMi.