Tag Archive: asylum


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An act of public witness and liturgical protest in a response to the current crisis on Manus Island following the government’s closure of the island’s immigration detention centre.  Sunday 19 November 2017, Tim Watts, Labor MP Office, 97 Geelong Rd, Footscray

We are here today to stand in solidarity with men who the Australian Government have held on Manus Island in limbo for over four years. We are here today on the unceded land of the people of the Kulin Nation because on October 31 the Manus camp was officially “closed.”

We are here today because water, food and power have been cut off. Over 600 men have been abandoned. They are collecting water in rubbish bins. They are digging wells to survive. They are showering in the rain. And left starving and without medical care. Because they can no longer tolerate political games and human rights abuses.

There has been no plan. There has been no justice. Their lives are on the line. Men have stated: We can’t blame the sea for drowning people but we blame Australia for killing us. People need a genuine solution. Not to be shifted from one prison to another where their lives remain at risk.

We echo their calls for freedom and safety and call on the Australian government to bring people back to Australia immediately and provide safe resettlement. We want the government to know that we are watching this humanitarian emergency unfold and we do not accept the violence, the abuse, and the ongoing persecution of refugees.

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We hear stories of the men on Manus in their own voice. Raise our arms as they do in non-violent protest. We spell out SOS in cups in solidarity and symbolically of life-giving water denied. We make decorations together with our children and tell them stories… we want to teach our children justice. We make chains of the names of those we know on Manus and symbolically tear those chains. Felt and red lights denote the blood on the hands of our democratically elected Government who are treating people this way in our name.  We have barbed wire on our tree instead of tinsel – neither the welcome you thought you’d be given nor the home you hoped to find. We sing, to remember and be re-membered.  We make decorations, we recite, we pray, we sing… it feels like something. Wherever two or three are gathered… there is our hope.

 

Hold on (Love Makes A Way)

(tune: Keep your hand to the plough/Keep your eyes on the prize)

They are coming across the sea,
From their homes they have had to flee,
We say, love makes a way, hold on.

We are here to sing and shout,
Why you keeping God’s children out?
We say love makes a way, hold on.

Chorus
Hold on, hold on,

We say, love makes a way, hold on.

We say welcome the refugee
We say set all the people free
We say, love makes a way, hold on.

We have room in our hearts to care
We have plenty enough to share
We say, love makes a way, hold on.

 

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I push the miscellany of moving to one side of the table. Housing applications, to-do lists, measuring tape, a stray key… the tissues can stay.  I light a candle.  I have to.  Nothing else makes sense. Be Thou my Vision O Lord of my heart.  It didn’t make much sense to take this on – planning a vigil, to add in an extra thing. What time or strength or capacity did I imagine I had? It’s a conceit for people to imagine the idea is mine or its execution.

I light a candle, teal, it transitions in colour from light to dark and I think of the waves. The overloaded boat you give up everything to catch – all that remains is you – skin, flesh, person, a life… alive. Unless the sea takes you.  You are rescued, you think saved, you are taken to a waiting place but it isn’t liminal or moving. It’s not a threshold to a new door.  It’s not a threshold to anything.  The door you knock on, pleading, cold, hungry, desperate, skin, flesh, person, alive… remains closed.

 

 

It’s hard to know how to respond when circumstances seem beyond understanding (such as Australia’s inhumane and fear-driven approach to asylum seekers and refugees).  It’s tempting to think ‘there’s nothing I can do’ or ‘nothing I do will make any difference’ and feel absolved of taking any action.  Both personal and political power are at play here.  The person I need to answer to is me.  Just because we can’t do everything doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t do something because I believe people are using their agency where they can – doctors, teachers, church and community leaders, yes even some politicians…  in speaking out you aren’t raising your voice alone but joining in a bigger chorus that are asking for the world to be different. Do you want the world to be different? Say so.  Even if it’s with only the cat watching and some “Radical Paint”.

 


What are Australian politicians saying about refugees?

“And so what I say to people when they are a little bit apprehensive about Australia taking more refugees, it’s really about what are the services we are going to provide, what communities are we going to put in and how are we going to integrate people into our community.

“These are beautiful people.

“I am so proud of humble country folk who are being part of the solution. We can do this, we can replicate this in many towns across Australia and it will bring so much good.”

Andrew Broad, National MP

 

… the current refugee crisis [is] the defining humanitarian issue of our time “and a challenge Australia has all too often failed to rise to”.  While Australia’s refugee debate was toxic, there were points of potential consensus between political parties. “I believe we can build out from these areas of consensus to increase the positive impact Australia can have on the international refugee crisis.”

TimWatts, Labor MP

 

“We have been taken for a ride, I believe, by a lot of the advocates and people within Labor and the Greens who want you to believe this is a terrible existence. These photos demonstrate otherwise. People have seen other photos in recent weeks of those up on Manus out enjoying themselves outside this centre, by the beach and all the rest of it.”

Peter Dutton, Immigration & Home Affairs Minister

 

“This is exactly what we have done with the program to bring in 12,000 Syrian refugees, 90 per cent of which will be Christians. It will be quite deliberate and the position I have taken — I have been very open about it — is that it is a tragic fact of life that when the situation in the Middle East settles down — the people that are going to be most unlikely to have a continuing home are those Christian minorities.”

Malcolm Turnbull

 

“They have been under our supervision for over three years now and we know exactly everything about them …

They have been on Nauru or Manus for over three years and the only reason we cannot let them into Australia is because of our commitment to not allow people to come by boat. Otherwise we would have let them in. If they had arrived by airplane and with a tourist visa then they would be here… They are basically economic refugees from Iran, Pakistan, and Afghanistan. That is the vast bulk of them.”

Malcolm Turnbull

 

“They won’t be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English,”… “These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that.

“For many of them that would be unemployed, they would languish in unemployment queues and on Medicare and the rest of it so there would be huge cost and there’s no sense in sugar-coating that, that’s the scenario.”

Peter Dutton, Immigration & Home Affairs Minister

 

“The difficulty of course on Manus is that this Government never put anybody on Manus. We inherited a situation where 50,000 people had come on 800 boats and it was a terrible, terrible situation. The deal that was struck between Prime Ministers O’Neil and Rudd at the time provided for no arrangement for what would happen to the people the end. It was open-ended and we have the mess to clean-up.”

Peter Dutton, Immigration & Home Affairs Minister

 

“You’re talking about those that have been found not to be genuine refugees. What should they do? They should go back home. Because if we allow people who are not refugees to come here, we then displace people who have a legitimate claim to make of persecution like the Yazidis we brought in most recently under the 12,000 Syrian and Iraq program. So if you want to displace genuine refugees you allow those in that are here simply for an economic claim.”

Peter Dutton, Immigration & Home Affairs Minister

 

 “The loss of one life is one too many, and I’m determined to get people off Manus, [and] to do it in such a way that we don’t restart boats.”

Peter Dutton, Immigration & Home Affairs Minister

 

 “To start off, you open up the camps. You bring transparency, you actually process these people, and you start actually finding a place for these people to go. I think that is a huge change from what we’re doing at the moment.”

Sam Dastyari, Labor MP – Shadow Minister for Immigration

 

“Well we’re the Opposition, so we’re calling on the Government. Australia has a moral obligation to ensure that these refugees have access to essential services- including security, health services, medical services- and we want the Government to be upfront. The Turnbull Government must work with PNG to guarantee the safety and security of these people and these men should immediately relocate to alternative accommodation in East Lorengau and the other facilities so they can access water, food, shelter, and receive the appropriate medical attention.”

Sam Dastyari, Labor MP – Shadow Minister for Immigration

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April 2017 Refugee Action Collective Forum: [from left] Aziz from Manus (Skype), S. Ravi Nagaveeran (Nauru), Lucy Honan (Refugee Action Collective), Lynne Elworthy (Nurse)

 

 

 

 

 

Replaced my name with a number. Don’t want to leave our country if we can live free.  Men risk journey in the deep water.  Carried lots of dream seeds with me and now I have none. Last four days… no water and no food.  No life, no food and no hope.

We are not here to steal. We are not Captain Cook. Save their life in the water and killing them on the land. 29 April he died [friend set himself on fire]. Keep faith and don’t lose hope.  This morning I thought: “I want to kill myself.” I am nothing here.

Knock the back door, they didn’t break the door, they couldn’t find their way to the front door. We never wants to come to Australia only want to come free… to gets out of this hell… this human dumping ground.

I used my time writing, dreaming, giving good things… we are not your enemies. Call us – we are your neighbours, call us we are your friends, together we can make Australia great.

I still have to say my boat arrival number now. [not known by his name]

~Ravi


 

Activist – gives me a power, a strength, to have have that.

Australian Guantanamo Bay.
Name and codes that they are using are the same.
Now is the time for all Australians to know what is going on there.

Oct 2013: There was shooting, gates were open.
Staff who are paid to protect us ran away…
in this instance their job was to “take care of ourselves first”
We did not know if it was a drill, practice or something else.

April 2017: Someone from the local defense force, drunk, came to where
we were playing sport. We told him: “Go away”.
Two hours later there was firing at every angle on the centre.

We had enough suffering. We had enough human rights violations. Human beings like you but dehumanise you.  I don’t want much – shelter and some chance to live free.

Doors impregnable.  Only one option left: Risk life on the oceans…
survive = hero, drown = feed the fish. At least your soul is at peace.
Not heroes… criminals.
But if you look at the conditions for criminals in Australia
they are treated better than we are.
Our rights have been taken away.
My name has been taken away that my parents gave me. I’m am QNK002.

People need to know the truth.
We need people to write. Be one voice to fight for this policy.
We never forget. We very proud. We pray for you day and night to have the strength and the power for this policy to change.  For the day we can get our freedoms.

~ Aziz


 

[in response to Peter’s Duttons account of a child being brought into the Manus detention Centre]

One gate… another gatehouse… another gatehouse…
no one can go in that isn’t staff or a refugee.
“Walk of shame”

“What crime did I do to put me in jail for four years?”
Australia’s criminal system is for guilty people. Refugees have done nothing.  If an Australian prisoner is sick they get seen at a clinic > ambulance > hospital > ambulance > another hospital. On Manus – need a rubber stamp to get off Manus and it doesn’t come in time. Australian prisoners get visitors… see family.  On Manus no one comes unless working with refugees.

Built 2 new prisons on Manus. Spent billions to keep them on Manus. “Mum, if you want people to listen to you talk about the men on Manus you have to talk to their pockets.

No money, no papers, no place to go.
It’s a cage, a concrete cage.
No toilets, no water, no beds, no blankets.

Waste – serving no useful purpose. So much talent in there. COuld have worked, Australia could have something useful for the money they have spent. Really good sportsmen, rep Australia in weightlifting, Socceroos, cricket – this is the time they would be developing that talent that they’re wasting.

I knew it would be in the article but not that I’d be named. I wasn’t being brave I was just speaking what was in my heart.
{Aren’t you afraid of going to jail?}
My kids are growing up. I’m old enough. What difference does it make?

~ Lynne


 

IHMS left Manus? Still here. Three weeks ago, big problem, with no warning stopped working. Had problem with Health MInister of PNG – refused to renew contract. IHMS didn’t hand over all the files.  “What sort of medicine are you taking?”  We don’t know the names… nervous… I’m the patient… I don’t know.  Contract renewed for 3 months until the end of June – after that we don’t know, especially with medical files.  Could get ‘lost’ we don’t know. Not good health cover. System designed to hurt you mentally, physically… “Send a message… send you back…” mosquito bite like a ball (panadol and water), headaches (panadol and water), diarrhea (panadol and water), back ache (panadol and water)… we have these where we come from but we didn’t know it could fix everything! What we suffer from? Negligence. Like Faisal, every 3 days for 6 months I write for him. No trust, interpreter not interpreting everything.  Kicked out. “You’re not sick. Please stop coming here. Sick and tired of seeing your complaint coming every day”. Faisal asks community for help. [petition] …more than half the community signed. Taken to isolation. “If anything happens to me, take care of my kids. I’m going to that place. I don’t know what will happen there.” Two days later, heard he had passed away. IHMS designed to destroy us mentally and physically by the system.

~ Aziz


 

Magic panadol? Super water?
Let me know where to get that.

~ Ravi


 

No paper trail on the computer.
Nursing someone to get better to go back to Nauru – what role can the unions play?
Not sign discharge papers? Sent back 24-hours later.
Most unethical situation I have ever been in.
Told: “You’re  earning your money out of our blood.”
You would go there as a volunteer if you were allowed but you’re not.
You have to get paid to get in.

The Australian population doesn’t want to believe you’re telling the truth. Need doctors and nurses who have established trust to use their platform to advocate.

Despite everything these men are standing tall, standing straight.
Superhuman resiliency – respect to the men, past and present.

~Lynn

 

Faysal Ishak Ahmed

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We gathered today to acknowledge and show respect to Faysal Ishak Ahmed.

We gather knowing we will do this again. We will do this again because there will be more deaths. They are preventable. This is unacceptable.  We know this will happen again because it has happened and is still happening with 23 deaths in the last two years (Australian Border Deaths Database).  Perhaps it’s feeling like there’s too many vigils, we had one just last month… to this we say “Yes. There are too many vigils.”

The origin of the word “vigil” is to do with being awake and keeping watch. We want to acknowledge the sorrow, grief and anger of Faysal’s friends and family. The other survivors of Dafur who know how few survivors there were wondering whether they might ever feel at home here. Those yet in camps on Nauru or Manus who wonder what help, what hope, might yet come for them.

Faysal, refugee – yes, and also a son, a husband, a father, a human died at 27 years of age. Today we say his name, hold his picture up – we say not only that your death meant something, but your life meant something even though we did not know you.

I imagine Jesus on his knees praying in the garden of Gethsemane wondering what help, what hope, might yet come but having some sense of inevitability about his situation asking of his companions: “Can you not stay awake and watch with me for even an hour?”.   To those waiting in the camps it must seem as though we are asleep for surely if we knew they were sick, surely if we knew they were being hurt, surely if we knew they were hungry this would not be a situation we would let continue… I hold my goddaughter in my lap, she is just starting out at school – learning to read – I imagine her asking me in years to come when this is a social studies project at school “Where were you while this was happening? Why didn’t you do something? Why did it take so long to change?” and trying to explain how it could be that some of us, so many of us, should be “asleep”. Yes he had refugee status – that didn’t seem to make a difference. The PNG government declared the camps illegal – that didn’t seem to make a difference.   The UN said aspects of Australia’s asylum seeker policies violate the Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment – that didn’t seem to make a difference… What will make a difference?  I overhear one woman say to another: “What people don’t understand is that to do nothing is to do something.”

 

We have met today on the Princes Bridge, I don’t know why. I look around while I wait for the formalities to begin and notice that all along the bridge is the Latin motto Vires Acquirit Eundo (the coat of arms of Melbourne) meaning ‘she gathers strength as she goes’ referring to the Roman goddess Fama or rumour personified. Following the speakers and a moment of silence, those holding flowers are invited to throw them from the bridge into the Yarra river and I realise my hope is that these vigils might gather strength as they go.

Those who are on their knees praying are asking us if we can be awake.
Those crying alone in the darkness are asking if we can stay awake with them.

Unbidden some of those at the vigil move out onto the road and block traffic on the bridge. They are asking us: “Are you awake?”

The next action calling for the camps to be closed, for the refugees seeking our protection to be given their mandated human rights, will be held on Sunday 9 April (Palm Sunday) – this is a question for people of all faiths and none: “Are you awake?”

 

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Consider looking into the Love Makes A Way movement or Refugee Action Collective for other ways to be involved and further details for the Palm Sunday event as it draws closer. I’ve drawn on inspiration from many of tonight’s vigil speakers above, thanks for your voice and advocacy.

welcome

 

This beautiful artwork is used with permission of  the talented artist Liz Braid www.lizbraid.com

As of April 2014 there are 1138 children in detention in Australia’s detention centres.  It has been hard to know how to respond in the face of Australia’s inhospitable and inhumane policies/treatment of refugees seeking asylum.

Our God is Undocumented, a book by Ched Myers, offers a biblical exegesis for the American context and is drawn on below to consider the Australian context through the use of reflective prayer stations.

map of 006the world – how can we identify with the journey of refugees, pin where we are from, our parents, our grandparents… use different coloured pins {Our God is Undocumented, p.10 “We should never forget that the first immigration “crisis” on this continent came as a result of European colonisation of the Americas. This resulted in three great disasters: the obliteration of First Nations sovereignty and cultures, the violent removal of millions of Africans to the Americas in the slave trade, and the impoverishment of countless people due to relentless resource and labor extraction… poor immigrants today are simply following the trail of wealth stolen from their land centuries ago.}

Australian has its own unreconciled history with its First Nations Koori people.  Koori people have lived on this land for 50,000 years, us white folk less than 250 years.  There is a bit of a “We outnumber you and ours is the dominant culture, why don’t you just assimilate/get with the programme”  Where do we belong? What right did our ancestors have to arrive by boat for resources such as land and gold or to avoid famine?  How can we use our own personal stories/history to develop a sense of compassion for those still arriving today?  As can been seen at the Melbourne Immigration museum there have been waves of refugees from Vietnam, Philippines, Africa (Ethiopian, Eritrean, Sudanese…), Middle East (Iran, Iraq, Lebanon…) – what is the role of Australia in conflict/securing resources in these areas?009

Say (or hear) Lords Prayer together in different languages.  Spirit of Pentecost Acts 2.6,8,11 …in their own tongue. Didn’t all understand Latin/Greek but heard scripture in their own language.   {Our God is Undocumented p.28 “Perhaps it recognises that language is one of the fundamental things that makes us human and that linguistic distinctiveness characterised the original forms of human organisation before the rise of imperial monocultures.  The ancient wisdom preserved in this story reminds us that cultural heterogeneity is as essential to human social ecology as species diversity is to a healthy biosystem… more than 95% of the world’s spoken languages have fewer than 1 million native speakers.  Half of all the languages have fewer than 10,000 speakers.  A quarter of the world’s spoken languages and most of the sign languages have fewer that 1,000 users… It has been estimated that 20-50% of the world’s languages are already moribund, and that 90% (possibly even more) may be moribund or will have disappeared by 2100.”}

Does your congregating community have members from other cultures who attend? If not, why not? What are some ways to acknowledge, celebrate and affirm the cultural differences within our community? Language/stories/songs, festivals, wisdom of prophets/spiritual leaders, colours/fabrics/flags, food at morning tea, clothing… we all of us are made in God’s image – male/female, brown/yellow/black/white, no matter where we’re born. How can we draw on the richness of diversity in the God we worship?

020share communion together {Our God Is Undocumented p. 200 “Remember what has been dismembered.  This exhortation lies at the heart of the church’s eucharistic ritual, repeated with each element for emphasis. It reiterates and sums up the deep wisdom of biblical faith, the product of a people all too familiar with distress, displacements and near disappearance.  Whenever you ingest this memory, said Jesus on the eve of his execution, you join yourselves to our historic struggle to make the broken body whole.  It was, and is, both invitation and imperative, equally personal and political.  If we refuse to heed it, we are doomed to drift forever on or be drowned by the tides of empire, refugees all.”}

This is one loaf of bread. One body.
It’s broken.

As Jesus’ body was broken on the cross for us.

this bit might be me…
this bit might be Jarra…
this bit might be Ahmed…
this bit might be Rajesh…
this bit might be Sam, or Maya, or Bob, or Shirley…

When we eat this bread it is a reminder that we are all part of one whole – we might be a different colour, we might be a different size of a different shape  – but we are all part of the same body… connected.  And we are all of us broken.  In each taking a piece, and eating it at the same time, we are invited back into wholeness with God and012 with each other.

Angels – paper cut out? Something we can take away with us/put somewhere prominant to remind us to welcome the other {Our God Is Undocumented p.67 “…account of the angel travellers similarly attacked in Sodom, a violation that also ended in that city’s destruction (Jgs 19:15-25-Gn 19:1-11). …cautionary tale… “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing this some have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb 13:2).

#LoveMakesAWay is a movement of Christians seeking an end to Australia’s inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent love in action, you can see their Facebook page here.  This is high-level commitment advocacy but there are less “extreme” places to start…

There is an initiative in Switzerland that suggests putting stickers on your mailbox to let your neighbours know what is available to borrow – we used to be able to knock on our neighbours door but nowadays spend more time online than in realtime…

Communities like Urban Seed in Melbourne offer a free meal to those marginalised by homelessness in Melbourne – but here’s the thing, they don’t only offer food to people who are homeless, they offer food to anyone that shows up for lunch as they explore what it means to be good neighbours in a busy city of commuters and extend us the invitation/challenge to do the same through their Strangers Are Fiction campaign.

Who are your neighbours? Do you know their names? What might be one thing you could do that might lead you into connecting with them? [fruit or flowers from the garden you want to share, or baking, maybe you take the initiative to borrow something next time you realise you’re low on milk or the grass is getting tall…] …who knows where this might lead?

Dolls house – have sample forms and invite people to write their own and take them home as a way of symbolically creating space for the other in your home {Our God Is Undocumented p.107 In my fathers house there is lots of room (Jn 14:2)

I went to an art exhibition last week with some art works around the theme of showing welcome to refugees such as that by Liz Braid above – they had some mock forms on the wall that said things like:

ASYLUM SEEKER
PROCESSING FORM

Please come in. What a
terrible journey you’ve had!
I’m so glad you have arrived
safely and to imagine, once
you’re healed, how much you
have to offer us.  Let me help
you with your bags, we’ll have
you unpacked in no time…
You are welcome here. APPROVED

Invite people to write their own words of welcome, take them home and put them in a room of our own house with some intentionality and deliberation – symbolically creating space for the other is a good place to start and this can create some mindfulness to extending hospitality/welcome when an opportunity presents itself.

 

Anne Lamott has said, “Hope begins in the dark, the stubborn hope that if you just show up and try to do the right thing, the dawn will come.”

Let us hope. Let us try and do the right thing.