This year, Refugee Week is celebrated from 14 to 20 June with the theme ‘with courage let us all combine’. Taken from the second verse of the national anthem, the theme invites Australians to reflect on the courage of refugees in fleeing persecution and starting a new life in an unfamiliar land.
Uniting Church in Australia president Rev Prof Andrew Dutney is calling on Uniting Church members to take five minutes of their time this week to imagine what it might be like to be persecuted on the basis of race, religion and political view.
“Over the last 70 years, Australia has offered protection to more than 700,000 refugees and every refugee has a story of hardship and courage to tell,” Prof Dutney said.
“Australia is a better country because of the incredible contribution of refugees and their families.”
Prof Dutney praised the courage of refugees in standing up for their beliefs in the face of possible torture or imprisonment. He said Refugee Week is a call to action for Australians to speak out against injustices committed against asylum seekers.
“As we celebrate these contributions, ‘with courage let us all combine’ to take a stand against violence and injustice wherever it occurs,” Prof Dutney said.
“This Refugee Week, let’s commit to making our country one that lives up to our national anthem as a nation with boundless plains to share.”
Against the backdrop of Refugee Week, pressure is building on the Australian government to confirm or deny allegations that it paid people smugglers to turn away boats carrying asylum seekers back to Indonesia. Immigration and law experts say if the allegations are true, Australia’s conduct could constitute a form of people smuggling.
In addition to celebrating the courage of refugees, Refugee Week aims to educate the Australian public by debunking myths about asylum seekers.
A study conducted by the Red Cross found many Australians are misinformed about asylum seekers. Six out of 10 Australians surveyed mistakenly believe there is an official ‘queue’ for asylum seekers and seven out of 10 falsely believe it is a crime to come to Australia by boat without a valid visa.
Educating the Australian public about the truth is the first step towards changing the conversation about asylum seekers. The Uniting Justice Refugee Week resource pack contains myths and facts about offshore detention, “stopping the boats” and children in detention, as well as tips on how Uniting Church members can take action in support of refugees.
Image by Takver via Flickr.