Growing up in regional Australia you will forgive me for thinking that been part of the Catholic Church was a lot like been a member of an RSL club – same thing each week and full of old people! I didn’t even know what the word “Catholic” meant and only recently found out it means “Universal”.
While I found that info on Wikipedia, I was also very blessed to actually ‘see’ our Universal Church while at World Youth Day in Madrid this year. Seeing the Church at an event where over two million Catholics from every country in the world come together in unity as sisters and brothers is an amazing sight. It was the Church in her true colours – vibrant and universal!
This is why there is a Catholic solution to asylum seekers in Australia – because we are part of a global community – because barriers – national sovereignty – politics – all run a distant second to the opportunity to help our international brothers and sisters and to be in solidarity with them, to walk with them and share their story.
We are called to be Universal: To strive for unity, to create peace and to fight for justice and work for greater equality in the world.
For many Catholics the solution to asylum seekers is simple – welcome them and help them get on with their lives.
At time when both major parties seem intent of playing politics with asylum seekers – Catholics should be encouraged to stand up for what their Universal Church is all about : inclusivity, compassion; care for the poor and marginalised.
Stand up for on-shore community based processing. Denounce mandatory detention – asylum seekers are not criminals.
Denounce offshore detention – they have crossed our path and are our neighbour.
The Catholic solution also has a three word catch phrase – ‘love your neighbour’ or for those who are worried about national security – ‘Love your enemy’
Off-shore processing is a barrier between us and them. For Catholics this does not sit well with our universal nature. This is also a barrier to our mission to achieve unity in the world.
So what if we don’t stop the boats?
There are three points to make. Firstly, Australia, surrounded by vast ocean, is one of the hardest nations to get to. Second, any Australian deterrent policy fails to stop the war and the tragic factors that compel people to leave their homeland. Third, most people in a refugee situation will stay in their homeland region – therefore most refugees won’t even decide to make the journey to Australia – the majority of refugees live in much poorer countries where security is a much bigger concern.
For these reasons, the number of asylum seekers Australia can expect will always be low in comparison to other nations.
There are extremely limited options for those who are in exile or stateless and catching a boat to a civil country that has good values and treats people with dignity is often the best option.
Asylum seeker policy should not be about stopping the boats for the sake of stopping the boats. My reading is that currently, it has become about keeping Australia privileged and excluding those who we don’t want – despite the overwhelming evidence of how Australia has benefited and developed due to those who found refuge here.
The Universal Church doesn’t encourage people to come by boat – but she does recognise the position these people are in. Asylum seeking is only a problem in Australia when boat people turn up. Elsewhere in the world these activities are going on in significantly greater numbers but this gets relatively no attention. If the boats stop coming to Australia – they will go somewhere else – we have not saved them from the journey – we have just altered their destination.
What method of demise would we prefer these people to risk? Starve to death, be raped, mutilated and killed or drowned?
Where all in the same boat – we all want to see an end to the suffering of others and we have real opportunities in Australia to work towards this. John Howard was wrong – we don’t decide who comes to Australia. What we decide is – who gets treated with dignity when they get to Australia.
We are the solution!
Research and Information Officer
Australian Catholic Migrant & Refugee Office
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference