Refugees

Refugees

John McLean

George Simpson's thoughts on immigration policy (November AD2000) invite comment. He suggests that "if they [unauthorised entrants] wish to come to Australia they should apply through the proper channels and not use their financial resources to queue jump."

There is, however, a big difference between the ideal and the reality. Because of oppressive regimes in both Afghanistan and Iraq, there are no United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) facilities for processing refugees in either country. A Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs official suggests that asylum seekers would need to apply for refugee status via another country. The Melbourne Age (30 August) quoted a UN source showing that of those using the refugee camp processing system during the year 2000, only 21 Afghanis were resettled in Australia. There are 3.5 million refugees in Afghanistan.

One can imagine the frustration and desperation born out of such a slow process. It is not surprising that thousands would seek alternative methods of reaching friendly countries with the hope of being able to begin a new life. Often in desperation they attempt to arrive on our shores via unseaworthy craft but at great risk to life.

The UN reported at the end of year 2000 a world figure of 22 million refugees. Minister Ruddock as at September 2001 has that figure at 23.5 million. The refugee crisis in not going to diminish in the foreseeable future. We must welcome those on the humanitarian program (authorised) and those boat people (unauthorised) who ultimately are granted a Temporary Protection Visa (TPV), but who are subsequently denied access to free English language tuition as well as to the Family Reunion program.

The St Vincent de Paul Society in four states is administering the Household Formation Support (material aid) segment of the Humanitarian Settlement program, but also has worked closely with TPVs since the Minister began releasing Asylum Seekers from Detention Centres in July 2000.

As Catholics (Christians) we should be wanting to care for these people, our brothers and sisters in Christ, who have suffered severely while seeking freedom and hope in a new country. We are being challenged to break down religious, cultural and racial barriers.

Pope John Paul puts the question: "How can the baptised claim to welcome Christ if they close the door to the foreigner who comes knocking?"

JOHN McLEAN
St Vincent de Paul Society
Migrant & Refugee Committee
Drouin, Vic

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