Let’s Fully Welcome Refugees

As Cathedrals and Dioceses across Australia joined St Paul’s Cathedral’s 2014 awareness campaign to fully welcome refugees, the Dean wrote:

refugee banner with other cathedral logos low resTwice a week, young people from overseas come to St Paul’s Cathedral Melbourne for a few hours’ English conversation, followed by a shared meal. All of them are new arrivals to Australia. Many of them are refugees. Volunteers from churches across the city teach them English, and help them make sense of their experiences in Australia. Just as important as making them welcome in their new setting, though, is providing a listening ear to their stories.

The refugees that join us at St Paul’s share stories of privation and difficulty in their homelands. They speak of the dangers of the journey here and, for those who arrived by boat, their very real fears of not making it alive to our shores. They are people who risked all for their new beginning. All of them are grateful that here in Melbourne they can live without being afraid for their lives. Many of them worry about those they left behind: parents, siblings or friends who share their beliefs, and who often are subjected to the same reprisals the young migrants who come to St Paul’s experienced.

Australia doesn’t make it easy for asylum seekers to find refuge here. Among the signatory nations to the UN Convention on Refugees we stand alone in denying people asylum based on their mode of arrival. Soon finding asylum here is going to be even harder. Both the Coalition and the Labor party seek to ‘stop the boats’, and have put forward harsh policies and drastic solutions to reduce the numbers of asylum seekers coming to Australia by sea. In their desire to demonstrate their determination, the leaders of our two largest parties are putting policy before people. In doing so they are not only failing some of the most vulnerable people there are but, as a recent UN Human Rights Committee inquiry has highlighted, are in very real danger of failing to safeguard the human rights of each asylum seeker.

Both Mr Rudd and Mr Abbott are church-going Christians. The founder of our faith, Jesus Christ, was himself a refugee from the persecution of a tyrant Middle Eastern ruler. The Christian message on refugees is unequivocal: ‘What you have done to the least of these my brothers and sisters, you have done to me’, Jesus teaches (Matthew 25:45). For me, it is clear that the Christian answer to our asylum problem is not the one offered by the government or the opposition: regional deterrance and increased off-shore processing will not provide the hoped-for long-term viable solution to Australia’s asylum crisis.

What will provide a long-term solution to our asylum challenge is the tried and tested Australian approach to migration, affirmed with pride in our national anthem: ‘For those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share’. Practised since the pioneer-days, and certainly from the time of the Victorian goldrush, our nation has shown like few others how integration can create a strong, and diverse society. The refugees who learn English and learn about Australia at St Paul’s every week want nothing more than to be able to become active contributors to our vibrant nation. This is why we at St Paul’s, joined by many Anglican Cathedrals and dioceses throughout this nation, call on our political leaders: ‘Let’s fully welcome refugees!’

To download a full-scale version of the orginal ‘Let’s Fully Welcome Refugees’ banner displayed on the South-West spire of the Cathedral, click here.