Every man and his dog has a political and/or humanitarian opinion about illegal boat people – a term that according to some commentators and activists is probably not an accurate description – but since the 70’s that idea has worked it’s way into the Australian psyche.
The above article is an interesting starting place for thinking about the realities of the boat people issue. It certainly presents some basic facts and dispels some myths – it is a parliamentary background paper with sources. It may still be filled with political bias but so far it seems pretty good.
A Christian Response
I’ve been thinking about what a Christian response would be to the issue of boat people/asylum seekers – it’s a complex issue and everyone has an opinion including an apparent majority of Australians seemingly opposed to illegal immigrants – but also confused about the best approach and maybe in many cases mislead regarding the facts.
So for my own sake I want to investigate what I can without the political agendas and rhetoric and I guess find out what I think from the facts – assuming they are available. It’s easy to blindly follow the crowd or the political party or to be taken in by the rhetoric without the truth ever really getting a look-in.
More than that I want to think about the issue from a Biblical point of view with an eye to the mission of the church. So does the Bible have a contribution to make on the issue, what sort of passages might we consider, are there general principles we can take from the overall theology of the Scriptures and are there any Biblical solutions – not thinking for a second that a government might ever consider a Biblical solution!
Should be interesting – for me anyway.
I have to say at the start that I don’t really know what I think. I have some basic opinions but none of them are solid – mostly I think I have responded with the basic idea that people should only come to Australia legally and that boat people, for all their desperation, are ‘jumping the queue. But for all my reading I feel a little ill-informed on the facts. And I do wonder if I think (see – bit wooley headed at the moment) that we should change what we are doing as a country.
Compassion and Mercy
How should compassion and mercy figure in our decision making process – not just in whether we accept them into the country as refugees, but how we treat ‘boat people’ during that process.
It seems interesting to consider that if we had simply accepted all boat people who made the journey to Australia since 1976 (when we started getting refugees/boat people displaced by the Vietnam war) and processed them in the community rather than detention centres, allowing them some sort of temporary status during processing, we would have accepted around 1710 people per year. That really is a drop in the bucket. Sure – if we open the borders then I guess the numbers would increase so we want to factor that in. But how many of these were kids? How many would have developed an amazing loyalty to a generous kind spirited Australia that allowed them to live life freely? How few would be potential terrorists or criminals – maybe a couple though most of what I’ve read so far suggests that there is little or no evidence of that. Leaving terrorism aside for now – even if a few are criminals how great a burden does that add to our system as it stands now?
There’s also the astronomical cost. This coming year apparently we will spend $1 billion processing 8500 refugees. Some costings I’ve seen – but not checked yet – suggest anywhere from $80,000-$120,000 per person cost in processing, checking and detaining. And that figure may not take in the cost of building detention centres and providing border security – as I said some research still to do. But would we benefit as a society from allowing these people to live in the community, take jobs, get education, participate in the functioning of Australia, pay taxes, support local schools? Would they not respond with gratitude (for the most part)? Would that not be a more positive way forward? How much affect can 1700 or so people have on an economy of 20+ million?
Anyway – just thinking out loud. For now!