Some are crying in the streets while others may be standing in judgment. The issue of boat people and refugees is politically polarizing. People are talking about a compromise. As Christians, I believe we need to find that space where justice meets mercy. This is both a political and humanitarian issue – a duty of care toward all.

Why is there so much attention given to these boat arrivals, when they account for only 2.5% of the permanent migration program with the entire refugee and humanitarian program at 8%? A bit of public confusion is inevitable given so few are aware of what Australia has committed to. As a signatory to the 1951 Refugee Convention, Australia is obligated to provide protection to all those who arrive on it’s shores or at its airports, while not obligated to resettle those waiting in camps. Perhaps this little known fact is the cause of some angst to begin with. And perhaps a convention signed in1951 is due for revision.

Australia typically allocates 6000 places for the refugee program for those worst cases waiting in camps and 7000 – 7500 places for the combined onshore program and Special Humanitarian Program (SHP). The SHP is for those who have been sponsored. For every onshore arrival, by sea or air, Australia deducts one place from the SHP Program. What this means is a person who is sponsored by taxpayers generally replaces a person who may have been sponsored by an individual willing to be responsible for them. But I doubt this is the only reason people are concerned about the boats.

While compassionate to genuine need I believe Australians are sensitive to having the ‘wool pulled over their eyes’. It’s all about being ‘fair dinkum’ and an issue of trust. And even Jesus didn’t entrust himself to all people because ‘he knew what was in a man’. (John 2:24-25) We’ve all seen the headlines ‘Australia a soft touch for asylum’ where all you need is a good story and forged documents. It was reported late last year that five riots occurred at Villawood in Sydney , Christmas Island and Darwin cost an estimated $17.6 million and could rise. And of course there’s the Captain Emad affair all blurring sensitivity to boat arrivals.

The boat people crisis is perhaps only the tip of the iceberg. There’s a bigger context we could call multiculturalism. Those who only see the humanitarian crisis, something that is really a global rather than Australian issue, are perhaps suffering a little myopia.
By definition, genuine asylum seekers ‘…leave (their home) and cannot return for fear of persecution. Asylum seekers are not immigrants. Immigrants leave by choice and are able to return home at any time.’

Yet some resettled refugees from Afghanistan and Iraq are known to take holidays in their country of origin. This is a sore point for some Chaldean Christians who are unable to return for fear of persecution, and are aware a number of Muslim Iraqis are able to do so freely. While immigration can cancel a visa if a person returns to the country they sought refugee status from, this doesn’t seem to be policed. Clearly, if the home country has become a holiday destination any threat of persecution must have been removed and there are other reasons for taking up residence in Australia.

While the plight of women in Afghanistan remains precarious, in an interview with Australian journalist Yalda Hakim earlier this year, President Karzai noted it was safe for Afghan nationals to return and contribute to the rebuilding of the nation. Yet they still come. Shiite Iranians seeking asylum from their Shiite government is difficult to understand and causing grief in Indonesia. Indonesian officials report Iranians and Afghan asylum seekers, are involved in crime, drugs and illegally marrying locals. This ‘marriage’ is perhaps the Islamic ‘muta’ marriage, which is a temporary marriage for as little as an hour – very convenient for men in transition but not helpful for local women or investing in social capital.

There are broader concerns about accepting those who are said to be suffering mental illness and are prone to violence e.g. 80% of Afghan women suffer domestic abuse. These are not appealing immigration credentials. A duty of care towards Australian citizens begs the question about how we will rehabilitate new arrivals so that we are not just adding to the problem of violence we already have? Hurting people hurt other people.

This is confirmed with headlines like ‘Afghan refugee claims he raped a teenager because of cultural differences’; ‘Immigration detainee on pool visit touched girls’ chests’. And last week The Age identified African youths of ‘solo mums from refugee camps’ as being ‘lost in a life of alcoholism, homelessness and violent crime’. We have to ask how this bigger question of a humanitarian response to the broader community will be factored into the discussion because it appears that multiculturalism is not all golden. According to a 2012 British report on multiculturalism, migration hasn’t just brought falafels and humus; it’s also brought to Britain Female Genital Mutilation, forced and false marriage (tellingly termed ‘statutory rape’ in a 2003 report), sex selective abortions, honour crimes including murder, and increases in domestic violence.

There must be a responsible way to process these applications more quickly, help those in genuine need and rehabilitate the hurting without believing every story people spin to call Australia home. Resistance is not just a case of xenophobia, unless resident Sheik Ismail on Christmas Island is xenophobic. He told The Australian he suspects new arrivals are not all genuine but merely economic refugees, seeking a better life. That’s immigration veiled as asylum seeking.

There is no easy answer. But we need to ensure that those being released into our community are fair dinkum about their intentions toward the broader community. It is probably not inconsequential that 80% of the world’s refugees are Muslim; but that would be another article!



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