“Truth never damages a cause that is just”.
I find it personally inspiring that someone like Hawa Hassan, who spent 14 years with her family waiting in refugee camps in Africa for a humanitarian migration visa to Australia, has the strength and courage to want to help other migrants settle into this land.
In this Refugee Week here is a message of hope regarding outcomes for people wanting to become Australians and what they can offer our society even after years spent as refugees. In such hope we find true expression of the principles of human dignity, the common good, solidarity and subsidiarity that are core to both Catholic Social Teaching and supposedly to the Australian democratic society.
Yet why is it then that Australia is repeatedly criticised by groups like Amnesty International on its migration record? “The Australian government is one of several around the globe more interested in using refugees for political point-scoring than protecting them” (Amnesty International).
The latest report from the UN’s Commission on Refugee’s gives us some mind boggling statistics.
• By end 2012, 45.2 million people were forcibly displaced worldwide as a result of persecution, conflict, generalized violence and human rights violations. Some 15.4 million people were refugees.
• More than half (55%) of all refugees worldwide came from five countries: Afghanistan, Somalia, Iraq, the Syrian Arab Republic, and Sudan.
• Children below 18 years constituted 46 per cent of the refugee population in 2012.
• 22 countries admitted 88,600 refugees for resettlement during 2012 (with or without UNHCR’s assistance). The USA received the highest number (66,300), with Canada second (9,600) and Australia third (5,900).
• Of these three countries, the USA has some 262,030 persons recognized as refugees under the 1951 UN Convention, Canada some 163,756 persons and Australia 30,083 persons.
• Yet of these, 20,010 of those cases in Australia (66.5%) were still pending recognition of their refugee or asylum status at the end of 2012, compared to 32,643 in Canada (19.93%) and 18,966 (7.24%) in the USA. (UNHCR report).
It is no wonder then that the 9th report of the Australian Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights (June 2013) concluded that the policy of transferring “Unauthorised maritime arrivals” to off-shore processing centres under the principle of giving ‘no advantage’, not only breaches Australia’s human rights treaty obligations but also actively creates disadvantage. “The cumulative effect of these arrangements is likely to have a significant impact on the physical and mental health of asylum seekers”.
The ‘no advantage’ principle has been criticised as having no meaning or content under international refugee and human rights law, “it is very unclear what you are comparing it with—no advantage over what?” (G Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission).
Further the outcomes of this policy may inadvertently provide greater incentive for all family members, including children, to seek to travel together in risky boat passage, rather than acting as a the intended disincentive to travel. (APH Report) http://www.aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=humanrights_ctte/reports/index.htm
Perhaps then we should be taking a message from people like Hawa Hassan and finding ways that we can assist in migration and settlement in Australia. One easy way is to come along and support the Walk Together Refugee Welcome Festiva in Fremantle this Saturday at 11am.
If you can’t make it along, let us know how you think we can welcome refugees and change the face of Australia. The forthcoming Federal election may provide another way to get our voices heard on this subject. Watch this space for a forthcoming opportunity to get involved.