Refugees and Asylum Seekers

On that most eventful day, 11th of September, the Dalai Lama issued a call to reflect on.

"There are two possible responses to what has occurred today. The first comes from love, the second from fear. If we come from fear we may panic and do things – as individuals and as nations – that could only cause further damage. If we come from love we will find refuge and strength, even as we provide it to others.

We will set the course for tomorrow, today. At this hour. In this moment. Let us seek not to pinpoint blame, but to pinpoint cause.

Unless we take time to look at the cause of our experience, we will never remove ourselves from the experiences it creates. Instead, we will forever live in fear of retribution from those within the human family who feel aggrieved, and likewise, seek retribution from them.

The message we hear from all sources of truth is clear: We are all one. That is a message the human race has largely ignored. Forgetting this truth is the only cause of hatred and war, and the way to remember is simple: Love, this and every moment.

If we could love even those who have attacked us, and seek to understand why they have done so, what then would be our response? Yet if we meet negativity with negativity, rage with rage, attack with attack, what then will be the outcome?

These are the questions that are placed before the human race today. They are the questions that we have failed to answer for thousands of years. Failure to answer them now could eliminate the need to answer them at all.

So, talk with God today. Ask God for help, for counsel and advice, for insight and for strength and for inner peace and for deep wisdom. Ask God on this day to show us how to show up in the world in a way that will cause the world itself to change. And join all those people around the world who are praying right now, adding your Light to the Light that dispels all fear.

That is the challenge that is placed before every thinking person today. Today the human soul asks the question: What can I do to preserve the beauty and the wonder of our world and to eliminate the anger and hatred – and the disparity that inevitably causes it – in that part of the world which I touch? A central teaching in most spiritual traditions is: What you wish to experience provide for another.

Look to see, now, what it is you wish to experience – in you own life, and in the world. Then see if there is another for whom you may be the source of that. If you wish to experience peace, provide peace for another. If you wish to know that you are safe, cause another to know that they are safe. If you wish to heal your own sadness or anger, seek to heal the sadness or anger of another.

Those others are waiting for you now. They are looking to you for guidance, for help, for courage, for strength, for understanding, and for assurance at this hour. Most of all, they are looking for love.

My religion is very simple. My religion is kindness.

The World Council of Churches sent a communique to the United Nations Secretary Kofi Annan regarding recent events:

"So long as the cries of those humiliated by unremitting injustice, by the systematic deprivation of their rights, and by the arrogance of power of those who possess unchallenged military might are ignored or neglected by a seemingly uncaring world, terrorism will not be overcome."

The drowning of 350 men, women and children on October 19th has riveted us all into a state of shock and revulsion because of the callous dismissal of the tragedy, as not being our problem, and we wish to express our sympathy to the relatives of those who have borne such suffering.

The Aboriginal lawyer, Mick Dodson, on 31st October 2001 has complained about the current state of Australian politics:

"There seems to be a deliberate appeal to the worst of the prejudices, bigotry and ignorance of some. This is the politics of difference and intolerance. The contest of ideas is nowhere to be seen."

It is a campaign that is elusive, almost sneaky on the question of race. Xenophobic fear of the other is being involved in the most despicable way as a rallying call to security of national borders and nationalism itself. Asylum seekers in boats have replaced indigenous Australians as the scapegoats for this fear and hate. Prejudice takes over from reason; humanity gives way to hysteria.

Our poorest Pacific neighbours are called upon to return or accept favours in a makeshift solution to the desperation of the desperate. Compassion and humanity take a back seat, for we are told we have already been far too generous and enough is enough. Small Pacific nations now need that money and more to act as surrogates for our humanity – our compassion – our concern.

Anyone can be a refugee. Boat people are ordinary men and women, many of them urban professionals, who are fleeing their countries because of war or persecution.

Nearly all refugees are genuine. 93% of Afghans and 97% of Iraqis are found to be legitimate asylum seekers. Anyone who does not fulfill the criterion of having a ‘well founded fear of persecution’ is sent back to their homeland.

Boat people are not illegal. Under the UN Refugee Convention, which has applied for fifty years, Australia has an obligation to take in asylum seekers and assess their claims.

They are in a totally different category from immigrants. The real ‘illegals’ are the 14,000 Britons or Americans caught each year for overstaying their visas. These people are not put in detention centres.

There is no queue to jump. Australia has no embassy in Iraq or Afghanistan for people to apply for a visa. In overseas refugee camps there is frequently no resettlement process available. Where one exists it is often ad hoc, agonisingly slow and corrupt.

Australia receives very few asylum seekers compared to other countries. Last year it received 4,174. Sweden with about half our population, receives the same number as Australia, Iran and Pakistan, two of the world’s poorest countries, each hosted over a million Afghan refugees.

No other country imprisons its asylum seekers. In Australia they are placed indefinitely in detention centres in harsh conditions without access to services. Canada allows its asylum seekers to live in the community. In Sweden they are allowed out of detention as soon as they have gone through identification and criminal screening.

Australia does not even fill its small quota of 12,000 refugees per annum. Not one of 400 allocated ‘Women at Risk’ places has ever been filled.

Almost one in five people in detention centres is a child. In Sweden the maximum time a child is kept in custody is six days. In Australia we keep children in detention indefinitely.

60% of asylum seekers are victims of torture or severe trauma. But in Australia they are treated like criminals rather than ordinary people fleeing persecution.

Australia is now sending troops into Afghanistan. Many of the boatpeople are fleeing the regime we are now fighting and they deserve our protection. Iraqis, too, are escaping the excesses of Saddam Hussein. Asylum seekers see Australia as a safe and democratic country in which they hope to have a far better future.

Remember the Snowy Mountains Scheme? After World War II it was built largely with the labour of thousands of refugees. Let us again give refugees a chance to contribute to this country in the 21st century. Let’s give them a fair go!

Let us not be blind to the finest dictates of all religions. Welcome the stranger.

"Continue to love each other like brothers (and sisters) and remember always to welcome strangers, for by doing this, some people have entertained angels unawares." (Heb. 13, 1)

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