The world is experiencing a refugee crisis. A recent report from the United Nations refugee agency said that “nearly 60 million people have been driven from their homes by war and persecution, an unprecedented global exodus that has burdened fragile countries with waves of newcomers and littered deserts and seas with the bodies of those who died trying to reach safety. The new figures paint a staggering picture of a world where new conflicts are erupting and old ones are refusing to subside, driving up the total number of displaced people to a record 59.5 million by the end of 2014, the most recent year tallied. Half of the displaced are children.” (New York Times, June 1)
Recent Australian governments have taken a very hardline stance choosing to put newly arrived asylum seekers in offshore detention centers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea and now even sending some to Cambodia. Human rights and medical organizations have produced reports on how damaging this detention is to already traumatized people, particularly the children. An Australian and New Zealand study of children who had been detained for more than one year revealed that 100 percent suffered from some form of mental illness attributable to their detention.
Many in Australia have spoken out against this harsh treatment, including the majority of religious organizations in the country. The government response has been to ignore these voices and to continue to paint the situation as one of “border protection.”
In response, a group of Christians started Love Makes A Way, a movement seeking an end to Australia's inhumane asylum seeker policies through prayer and nonviolent love in action. We organize events, including civil disobedience actions, to publicly witness to the injustice of Australia's asylum seeker policies, and to a better way. Over the past year, nonviolent prayer actions have taken place in offices of members of Parliament and in the Parliament House in Canberra. Clergy and other Christians have been arrested, charged, and gone to court. No one has been convicted. On a number of occasions, magistrates have praised these Christians for speaking up.
On May 19, we participated in one such prayer action (Video). We sang, prayed, and read through a litany. Two of the songs we sang included these words:
“Until the swords turn into ploughshares
Until the children eat their fill
Until the mansions admit the lowly
We have no cause for standing still.”
And the lament song, “How Long?”
“How long must we cry out
Til justice rolls down like a river?
How long must this night last,
And when will we all be together?”
With the answering chorus:
“Teach me to do what is right,
Work in the darkness, trust in the light,
And may love be the path I walk upon.”
After eight hours, we were forcibly removed by the police, but not charged. (Photos and Article)
The public response, particularly on social media, has been positive, but the government continues with its harmful and shameful policies. As followers of Christ, who himself was a child refugee, we feel we have to respond in appropriate ways to this situation.