The Australian government’s refugee policies will be a much-discussed topic in the lead-up to the federal election. A recent survey conducted by Youth Action revealed that Australia’s treatment of people seeking asylum was the number one election issue for young people aged 17-25.
In preparation for National Refugee Week on 19-26 June, UnitingJustice has launched its resource Searching for Freedom.
National Refugee Week celebrates the positive contribution refugees make to Australian society. It is also an opportunity to tackle the myths perpetuated by governments and media outlets about people seeking asylum.
Searching for Freedom illustrates Australia’s history of welcoming refugees through a series of infographics. In the years following World War II, refugees came to Australia from European countries such as Germany, Poland and Hungary. Australia also opened its doors to refugees fleeing the Vietnam War in the 1970s and the Balkan War in the 1990s.
However, the turn of the century marked a dramatic shift in Australia’s asylum seeker policy with the introduction of the Pacific Solution in 2001. The offshore detention of people who arrived to Australia by boat was later embedded as bipartisan policy.
As both major political parties reiterate their support for boat turn-backs and other draconian measures, Searching for Freedom describes an alternative to ‘stopping the boats’. The Uniting Church opposes offshore detention and supports a humanitarian solution.
“The aim of a genuine regional protection solution is to offer safety and the hope of a future for refugees in accordance with international humanitarian law,” the resource explained.
“Such a program requires countries to be committed to a long-term process and willing to work constructively together. It will not happen overnight. It also requires Australia to commit to rebuilding trust among our regional neighbours and demonstrating goodwill—a willingness to lead the process and contribute our fair share to solving the problems in the region.”
In addition to the refugees languishing in offshore detention centres, approximately 30,000 people live in the Australian community waiting for their claims to be processed. The resource outlines the challenges faced by people on Temporary Protection Visas, who have limited welfare and work benefits and no right to family reunion.
Searching for Freedom includes a number of ideas for congregations to get involved in Refugee Week. Many churches display messages on their signboards to demonstrate solidarity with people seeking asylum. The resource contains examples of messages your church can post on your billboard. It also includes prayers your congregation can include in worship services during Refugee Week.
Another way to raise awareness within your church is through social events. Congregations can host a refugee-themed trivia night or a film night fundraiser. Book worms can also select a story about refugees for their book club.
For more ideas and information, download Searching for Freedom here.