Critiquing Government policies is easy; finding positive solutions is more difficult. Yet positive solutions to Australian asylum seeker issues have been recommended by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) for years, centring on regional collaboration. The Bali Process, as it is called, gathers leaders and experts from the region in order to address irregular movements between countries, with the aim of stopping people smuggling and protecting displaced people.
Regional collaboration, steered by the UNHCR, is holistic and comprehensive, encompassing ‘both legal and safe passage issues while also recognizing the root causes of irregular migration.’
Collaboration is essential: the Bali process acknowledges that pathways to refugee status are very limited in the Asia-Pacific. (Statistical forecasts suggest that at current rates of resettlement, placing those people presently fleeing persecution would take five hundred years! The Government’s mantra that asylum seekers should ‘wait their turn’ and pursue ‘regular pathways’ to settlement, ignores our shared responsibility to provide such pathways.)
Genuine collaboration between nations in order to provide reliable and consistent access to processing and settlement, has the potential to both ‘stop the boats’ and care for those fleeing persecution.
Rudd’s new policy has been criticised by the UNHCR as it erodes the integrity of regional collaboration. It also nullifies Australia’s own authority as a potential voice of reason and compassion in the Asia-Pacific. Rudd’s policy is a step backwards not only nationally, but regionally.
Worse, to our nation’s shame, the Australian Government has chosen to disregard hard won international agreement for the protection of refugees, represented in the Refugee Convention of 1951. Thanks to Rudd’s policy, the Refugee Convention has less authority than it had a few weeks ago—this is tragic. With this erosion of humanitarian authority for ethical action we are sinking in the mire of national self-interest and the mud slinging of petty politics—Australia is experiencing an absence of moral leadership.
Here is policy suggestion, consistent with both international Conventions and a biblical ethic of welcome: prioritise regional collaboration, as the UNHCR suggests, dealing with organized criminal networks and enhancing protection and reliable processing for asylum seekers. Meanwhile maritime arrivals to Australia are treated with dignity and respect, living within the community as their claims are processed. And Australia should heed the UNHCR’s recommendation for greater collaboration in order to minimize deaths at sea.
Biblical ethics call for a new idealism in Australian politics: for citizens and leaders who dream bravely toward policies that lead to the flourishing of all (idealism, visible in the leadership of the likes of Lincoln or Mandela, is glaringly absent in current debate).
And it calls for a new idealism among the people of God: if witness to Christ in Australia 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.
[This blog is a portion of an article forthcoming in Eternity Newspaper.]
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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.