As Christians seeking to live faithful lives and respond to others with the grace of God, there is probably no more confusing and complex area of public policy and debate than this.
Many Australians support ‘tough’ positions against asylum seekers who arrive by boat and rank asylum seeker issues as one of the top issues facing our country. Some Christians, like many other Australians, are concerned about unsustainable numbers of asylum seekers arriving by boat and a fear of the ‘floodgates’ opening if we were to have more compassionate policies. Others have voiced concern about fears of Islamisation and the changing demographic of Australia. Many more share a deep concern that people are drowning in small, overcrowded and unseaworthy boats making dangerous voyages.
We are confronted not only by deaths at sea but also by our concerns for those refugees in camps throughout Africa and Asia. We see vulnerable people suffering because of harsh and punitive policies administered by our Government here in Australia and in offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island, PNG.
Children are locked up in immigration detention centres, asylum seekers are living in poverty in the community with no end in sight to their situation and on Manus Island and Nauru the conditions are harsh and damaging to people’s health and wellbeing. The problems seem too great and the solutions elusive.
With such difficult moral questions around Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, it is important to step back from the prevailing public debate and draw guidance from our identity as ‘disciples’.
We know that we do not always respond to human suffering and need with compassion and love. We are often driven by our fears and our confusion to give assent to ‘solutions’ which punish rather than protect. Through the national debates around asylum seekers, we have seen the best of the Australian national character – generosity, hospitality, practical care and deep compassion, and the worst of our nation – political opportunism, mean-spiritedness and fear of outsiders.