The conditions on Mannus Island and Nauru have been well documented, and it seems as though the sentiment of the Australian people has changed from ‘Lock ‘em up! Stop the people smugglers’ to “It is terrible that we punish one group of people, the people smugglers, by holding in indefinite detention, people who have done nothing wrong, and who have a legitimate right to ask for asylum here, and, as it happens, to try to come here.
The government has done all in its power to demonise asylum seekers by persistently calling them ‘illegals’ when there is in fact nothing illegal about them. They are not even ‘unauthorised’ arrivals, since the refugee convention ‘authorises’ them the right to try to go to a place of safety.
The government has spent a large amount of money fighting judicial orders to bring people top Australia, for medical treatment.
All this is bad enough, but last week I read in the papers to what lengths our government will go.
Here is the story. There are detention centres in Australia. Some of them are in Melbourne. The government has now made it very difficult for those in detention to be visited.
They make it necessary to make an appointment, in writing weeks in advance to see a person in detention, and then may cancel this appointment without reasons, at short notice.
Those visiting are not allowed to bring presents for the detainees, except when the detainee requests something. The appointment for this giving of presents may be on a different day from the visit.
There is an overly strict drug-testing regime. People have been turned away from a scheduled visit because their clothing or parts of their skin test positive for ‘opioids’. This is happening to people who have never taken such drugs. When questioned the staff say something like ‘You might have sat next to someone on public transport who has been handling them, and some has rubbed off on you.” Clearly the machines are over sensitive.
The effect of all of this is to harass the visitors, and to make it difficult for them to visit those in detention. This is the method employed by governments the world over: low level harassment.
They cannot be accused of ‘refusing visits’ but they can make it as difficult and capricious as possible.
But worse, the effect on the detainees is to remove hope from them. The great value of organisations like Amnesty International and the Refugee Council of Australia etc. is that they say to a person, ‘You are not forgotten, you count, there is hope for you because I know you.’
And you do not have to look far to see that our God is on the side of the refugees and visitors and not the government. We hear ‘Do not be afraid I am with you, I have called you by your name, you are mine’ (Is. 41:1)
And of course hope is such a big theme in both the Common Testament and the New Testament. Jeremiah, in speaking to those about to be carried off as slaves into exile says of God “These are the plans I have for you, for your welfare, and not for evil. To give you a future and a hope.’ In the resurrection of Jesus, we have the grounds for hope because now we see what God can do. God is the God who holds out the possibility of new life for all who are oppressed in Jesus. Hope is at the centre of Christian faith, and here the bureaucrats at the behest of our politicians are working to remove hope. Psalm 94:20 describes the situation exactly when it says of God “Will you be any friend to the court of wickedness that contrives evil by means of law?”
And that great statement of God’s purposes, the Magnificat describes the way God acts, and for whom god acts. “He has cast down the mighty from their thrones, and has lifted up the lowly. He has filled the hungry with good things, and the rich he has sent empty away.”
There is just nowhere in the Bible where being cruel to refugees, and those who want to support them finds a place.
Nearly all of the secular meaning making about Christmas focuses on the fluffiness of ‘families getting together’ and the way in which a baby can draw from us all kinds of compassion.’
But I think that in keeping Advent, we discover that Christmas is not about fluffiness at all, but it is about how God’s love presents itself to us in vulnerability, not in the callous exercise of power in order to dehumanise those in need, and in order to remove their hope.
When Christ comes to us he will ask us “How did you treat the least of these, my brothers and sisters’. It will be a truly royal commission.
Here is a link to a report on this from the Refugee Council of Australia < https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/publications/reports/detention-visitors/>