Uniting Church calls for compassion on World Refugee Day

Uniting Church calls for compassion on World Refugee Day

The Uniting Church in Australia has called for compassion and a renewed commitment to Australia’s international obligations on World Refugee Day.

The Rev. Alistair Macrae, President of the Church, said, “This year we rightly celebrate the 60th anniversary of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees years and the 57 years since Australia became a signatory.

“Until recently Australia has had a proud history of upholding our international obligations under the Convention. We have been generous and compassionate as we welcomed asylum seekers and refugees to a safe life in our country. This year however the celebration is accompanied by profound lament: Australia has turned its back on the spirit of the Convention.

“Asylum seekers fleeing situations of violence and persecution arrive, as they are entitled to do under the Refugee Convention, to find themselves being used like political footballs.

“Our political leaders have embarked on a race to the bottom, with the prize being awarded to the party which can deliver the harshest penalties.

“We should be a model country in demonstrating how it benefits us all to offer care and compassion to people in need. Instead, in the face of just a few thousand people arriving by boat, we have hardened our hearts. Now we risk losing any moral authority to encourage other countries to better protect the rights and dignity of all people and uphold their own commitments to human rights.”

Mr Macrae said, “The Uniting Church in Australia has long called for compassion and moral leadership in Australia’s treatment of vulnerable people, including asylum seekers. It is our firm view that as a nation we must live up to our international obligations and display the generosity we would wish to be known by.

“The proposed plan to ‘swap’ people with Malaysia is an abrogation of our moral responsibility as a stable and wealthy nation and our responsibilities under the 60-year-old Convention.

“Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and has a record of human rights abuses against asylum seekers and refugees. It is not an appropriate place for us to send traumatised and vulnerable people.”

Refugee Week in Australia is this year exploring the theme “freedom from fear” as the 1951 Convention defines a refugee as:

Any person who owing to a well founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.

The Church’s National Director for Justice, the Rev. Elenie Poulos, said, “Our international obligation under the Refugees Convention is to assess the claims for protection of everyone who comes to us seeking safety, regardless of how they arrive.

“We should not be sending those who have fled dangerous situations into situations of further danger. We should not be punishing those most vulnerable in order to send a message to others who profit at their expense.

“This is a cruel response not befitting a country that promised to treat asylum seekers and refugees with dignity and respect.

“People have been fleeing violence and persecution since the beginning of human history. Our response should be to offer hospitality and safety to those in need and to contribute as much as we can to making the world a more peaceful place.

She said, “The celebration of World Refugee Day is an invitation to consider the situation of people who suffer great trials. It is an invitation to try to imagine for ourselves what lengths we would go to, to ensure our family is safe and our children have a future free of the fear of persecution.”

Mr Macrae said, “The Christian faith is clear on this. Our God calls us to welcome the stranger, care for the neighbour in need and treat others as we ourselves would want to be treated. It is my hope that the Australian Government comes to remember its obligations and these values on the occasion of World Refugee Day.”

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