A response to the ACL’s position on asylum seekers

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The Australia Christian Lobby posted a media release today supporting off-shore processing for asylum seekers. According to ACL’s Managing Director, Jim Wallace:

“Deterrence must be a strong part of our response to this, if these disasters are to be averted, and that means making it unattractive for people to attempt this.

“The Malaysian solution is an attempt to address this, and whether we institute it or not, 95,000 mainly genuine refugees will continue to languish in camps there.

“If we take the initiative to focus our refugee intake on these and other existing camps and make that known, we will reduce, if not stop, this carnage.

Hold on a second. This is the Australian Christian Lobby – shouldn’t the strongest part of their response therefore be to encourage a Christ-like attitude? More on that in a moment.

It’s astonishing to see the ACL support the Malaysian Solution, when it has been struck down as unconstitutional, and criticised for it’s failure to uphold our human rights responsibilities and legal obligations. It is indeed concerning that 95,000 refugees are languishing in Malaysian camps, and certainly, we must do what we can to alleviate that, but this should not mean we should send away people who seek asylum in Australia. Remember, it is not illegal to seek asylum, even if arriving by sea (and those who arrive by boat are the minority of those who seek asylum in Australia each year).

Wallace suggests that if we only accept refugees who’ve passed through the Malaysian refugee camps, it will create a deterrent for people smugglers. I’m surprised that he’s so confident it will “reduce, if not stop” people smuggling, as he speaks, later on of the “imperfect” world we live in. He’s right, in that we do live in an imperfect world, which makes me think that there will always be people desperate enough to try any way they can to make a new life for themselves, and people who will take advantage of them. While we ought to do all we can to stop criminals exploiting asylum seekers, we should not do so at the expense of those who need our help.

Wallace refers to the ‘carnage’ of the situation, and indeed, I do not wish to downplay the tragedy of those who have lost their lives trying to seek asylum in Australia by boat, but let’s put the figures into perspective.  One report describes the situation in Malaysian camps:

From 2002 to 2008, 1300 people died in Malaysia’s detention centres or “depots” due to poor detention conditions and lack of adequate medical attention. Reports reveal that detainees only receive one cup of water a day and no vegetables, making malnutrition common. Detainees are often held in overcrowded environments with 300-400 people in a 30 square metre room, which often lack ventilation. There have been reports of sexual, physical and verbal abuse of detainees by the guards in detention centres.

This group estimates that around 1055 people have died at sea while trying to reach safe haven on Australian shores.

It seems to me like carnage whichever way you look at it. Wallace seems to be drawing a false dichotomy, playing the need to deter illegal and dangerous people smuggling over the imperative to help those who seek asylum in Australia. There is no easy solution to stemming the problem, but there is an appropriate response.

As I said above, the ACL, of all groups, should be pushing for the Christian response: love justice and mercy, feed and clothe the hungry and the ‘alien’ who sojourns in the land. As I wrote in a previous post:

The OT law was very explicit in legislating protection and equality for foreigners in their midst; they were to be treated as if they were ‘native born’ (Lev 19:33-34). Laws were there to provide for their basic needs (Lev 19:10) and they were to receive justice (Deut 24:17).

[God] executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. (Deuteronomy 10:18-19 ESV)

Nor is this just an OT concept. One of the most famous parables Jesus ever told was the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), where he affirms the perspective of the law in taking care of foreigners (and enemies!).

As Christians we believe that all people, even asylum seekers, are God’s image-bearers. Jesus tells us that what we do for the ‘least of these’ is what we do for him:

For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’
Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
(Matthew 25:42-45 ESV)

We must not neglect our legal, moral and spiritual obligations towards asylum seekers in the quest to end exploitation and dangerous people smuggling, and I call on the ACL to advocate the Christian response of Matthew 25 instead of the merciless position of off-shore processing.

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9 Responses to A response to the ACL’s position on asylum seekers

  1. tony says:

    Having looked around the ACL site I can’t see how the six member all white all male board is elected or how they derive their authority to speak for all Christians. It’s hubris and spin and freakin cheeky.

    And paints Christianity according to their values.

    • @ibbers says:

      The ACL board isn't elected, they're appointed by the existing ACL leadership. The defunct ABC Radio Religion Report had some interesting pieces on ACL's leadership from a few years ago, largely based on interviews with one or two ex ACL higher-ups.__It is a curious position being taken by the ACL given that on some issues they do seem to find Christian notions of social justice to be compatible.

  2. Daniel Saund says:

    The only thing wrong with this post is that not enough people will read it and agree with it.

    Well said.

  3. John Hicks says:

    While what Andrew says is correct, could Wallace be suggesting it is more Christian to work to prevent more boat trips being attempted rather than aiding those that survive the trip? Just a thought.

  4. Daniel Sinnott says:

    Well, done – Although I have no belief in the source of your arguments (bible verses) you have at least outed the ACL with the right ammunition.

  5. tess says:

    Wow nice to see a Christian, who stands up against hypocrisy.

  6. AndrewFinden says:

    This, from Julian Burnside, compliments my post well:

    It is tragic that people drown trying to get here to safety. It happens. It will keep happening. Our compassion for the drowned should be harnessed to a genuine rethink of our refugee policy. One thing is sure enough: if the risk of drowning is not a deterrent, then shipping them off to Malaysia or Nauru won’t be.

    But there is a way of deterring them from getting on a boat in Indonesia: introduce a substantial annual quota of refugee resettlement of asylum seekers in Indonesia. If we took 10,000 refugees each year from Indonesia, and took them in order of them lodging an application in Indonesia for protection, their likely there would reduce dramatically; the incentive to get on a boat would disappear. We would save many lives. But we would have to accept a larger number of refugees than we do now.

    We can do it. But we won’t do it unless we are fair dinkum about our concern about people drowning at sea.

  7. [...] A recent one, also about refugees that I’m glad was read a lot: A response to the Australian Christian Lobby [...]

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