THE POWER OF NUN | Will history see us standing with our refugees?

PEOPLE, FIRST: Sister Mary Trainor reflects on the importance of Refugee Week in light of the ongoing issues at centres like Manus Island. Photo: FILE PHOTO
PEOPLE, FIRST: Sister Mary Trainor reflects on the importance of Refugee Week in light of the ongoing issues at centres like Manus Island. Photo: FILE PHOTO

There’s another important week coming onto the horizon. I am referring of course, to Refugee Week, and the opportunity for each of us to become properly informed of the issues involved, and to overturn false and biased opinions on the subject.

It is now 20 years since Refugee Week was established, but resolution still seems far away. This week runs from Sunday until Saturday, June 23. The theme for this year is ‘With Refugees’.

On Wednesday there will be a photographic display and guest speakers at Orange Regional Museum from 6pm, which is being sponsored by the Orange Social Justice Group.

The Refugee Council of Australia said in a recent publication, and I quote, “when history looks back, will it be to see them standing alone, or will we see we were standing with refugees?”.

There are many and varied opinions about refugees and it is often difficult to distinguish between fact and fiction. Julian Burnside QC went as far as to label Australia’s treatment of refugees as criminal, in an article published in the Sydney Morning Herald last week.

He goes on to say that many people believe that Australia’s punitive treatment of these people is to protect us from criminals, labelling all these desperate people as “illegals”.

Stop the boats has more to do with Australia’s border protection than it has about protecting innocent victims from drowning at sea. Confining people for years in off-shore detention, or on temporary visas, inflicts extraordinary hardship on people who have already fled unbelievable horrors, lost loved ones and loved homelands.

Without adequate counselling and mental health oversight and treatment, we, Australians, are condoning the infliction of lifelong illness, and destroying hope and possibilities.

A label I often hear is that these people are just “economic refugees” wanting to come to Australia to make money.

If the opportunity to make enough money to put food on the table and exist in their place of origin puts lives at risk, it seems difficult to understand what critics mean by economic refugees.

I rather suspect that people looking for monetary remuneration would more probable come here by plane.

Recently my attention was drawn to a cartoon that struck my imagination. It depicted a number of Aboriginal people standing high on a cliff looking down on an ocean harbour where a fleet of British ships were landing and off loading scores of convict passengers. The caption read “Stop the boats”.

Back in those days the only way to come to Australia was by boat – unless, of course you could swim.

Australian citizens comprise a huge mixture of racial backgrounds, representing a large percentage of the world’s countries and cultures. This provides us with a richness and diversity that lies deep within us all. Possibly the biggest influx was after World War II when many Europeans migrated here.

If only the powers that be would fix up the migration rules and regulations in accordance with international conventions, hurry up the procedural arrangements, treat people as people and not as baggage, how much richer would our culture be, and how many innocent people would have less to suffer?

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