The Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Brisbane has encouraged Christians to counter the demonization of asylum seekers in the current public debate by reaching out to asylum seekers with love, compassion and a sense of justice.
The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that the approach of both the Federal Government and the Opposition encourages demonization and dehumanisation of asylum seekers, misinformation and unwarranted fear.
“The Federal Government is intent on subjecting asylum seekers to the most cruel and unjust regime of either living in the Australian community with grossly inadequate income and little or no opportunities for work or meaningful activity or to a life of languishing in offshore detention for years in a difficult environment on Manus Island or Nauru,” Mr Arndt said.
“The Opposition, on the other hand, wants to turn back the boats, to reintroduce the perpetual anxiety and stress of temporary protection visas and to make asylum seekers pariahs if they are placed in the community by insisting on profiling and a system of community notification,” he said.
“When you add to these approaches attempts by various politicians to foster the notion that some refugees are more ‘deserving’ than others, you have a disastrous recipe for turning flesh and blood human beings with stories of dreadful persecution and horror into demons and objects of public scorn,” he said.
“We know there is fear and discomfort within some parts of the community with the arrival of more people from places like Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Iraq, but we cannot sit back and allow politicians to respond to this or even manipulate it for their own gain by subjecting asylum seekers to increasingly nasty, callous and unfair treatment,” he said.,” he said.
“We urge Christians to challenge this fear and cruelty by reaching out to asylum seekers in detention centres and in the community, to learn their stories of pain and suffering and to give them the respect and the dignity they deserve as fellow human beings,” he said.
Mr Arndt said that he and members of the Commission’s Refugee Working Group had spent the last year reaching out to refugees by visiting them in the local detention centre at Pinkenba, providing practical support to asylum seekers in the community, assisting them with judicial reviews in the Federal Magistrates Court and by advocating policy changes in meetings and communications with both the Immigration Minister and the Shadow Minister, various local MPs and Senators and with officials of the Department of Immigration.
“This activity by the Commission is matched by the work of countless Catholics and other Christians locally who have walked with asylum seekers and lovingly supported them while they wait for a decision on their applications for protection,” Mr Arndt said.
“By supporting asylum seekers here in Brisbane, many Christians have come to know their personal stories of horror and fear and have come to understand why the approach of our political leaders is so inappropriate and unjust,” he said.
“I will always remember how I was affected when I joined with a number of Tamil and Iranian asylum seekers in the detention centre at Pinkenba to celebrate Eucharist on Christmas Eve last year,” he said.
“Fr Pan Jordan, a local Tamil priest, led the Eucharist for which the Catholic asylum seekers were so deeply grateful,” he said.
“It was an immensely moving experience to celebrate Eucharist with men who had legs blown off, who had lost the power to speak and who were so full of anxiety and distress,” he said.
“Asylum seekers are human beings and they must be treated as such,” he said.
Mr Arndt said that the Commission had also worked with representatives of the Anglican and Uniting Churches to form a support network for refugees and asylum seekers in the Brisbane area, the Brisbane Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support Network (BRASS).
“We are very pleased that many refugee agencies and communities, churches and individual Christians and people of good will have been coming together for a year now to share information about refugees and asylum seekers and to increase the support being offered to people who have been through so much suffering in their own countries,” he said.
“We urge more Christians to break down the demonization and hatred of asylum seekers with the love of Christ,” he said.
For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.
NB This release is issued with the approval of the Commission or its Executive under the provision of its Mandate which enables it to speak in its own right. The views expressed in it do not necessarily represent the views of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.