28 May 2024

We can bless refugees if we act together as Anglicans

Marchers at the Palm Sunday Walk for Justice. Picture: Paul Dunn 

Audrey Statham 

2 May 2024

As wars grow across the globe, the Australian Anglican Church must prepare to better support more refugees.  

To do this, we must endeavour collectively and individually to articulate a distinctive Christian and Anglican perspective on the ethical, social, technological, ecological and economic challenges we now face.  

At the recent Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for refugees, more than 350 people gathered to call for peace and for just treatment of people seeking asylum in Australia.  

Among them were Melbourne Anglicans, other church, community and school groups, and many people from other faiths or not affiliated with religion.  

The event highlighted the urgent need for the federal Labor government to abolish long-standing, unjust refugee policies. For instance, the former government’s “Fast Track System” has left around 10,000 people in limbo, some for more than a decade, due to significant backlogs and delays in processing applications for asylum. 

Read more: Opening doors to housing for new migrants, refugees

The event highlighted that people on bridging visas who live in precarious conditions – often in poverty, and at risk of destitution – need basic income support while they wait for their refugee claims to be assessed. 

And it highlighted that many people on temporary protection visas are still waiting to be given permanency, despite Labor’s February 2023 promise to do this.  

I was struck by the potential of this collective effort to bring together Australians from all walks of life, in a public place, in real time, to reflect on how refugee policy affects us all, that it shapes our society.  

As it becomes harder to discern online what is real from what is fake, we need such communal spaces. In these spaces, people are free to decide the merits of a case based on arguments presented by people that one can question, and even interrupt and disagree with.  

With wars increasing globally, more displaced persons and asylum seekers will inevitably seek refuge in Australia.  

Melbourne Anglicans need to be equipped with the knowledge, compassion, confidence and faith for discerning just responses to the claims and needs of refugees.  

Read more: More refugees, more hunger: What we missed in 2023

This will depend on creating public forums such as this in which people can engage in robust deliberation, dialogue, and debate about what kind of society Australia is becoming. 

We must ask what role Anglicans have in bringing about a more just and compassionate future for asylum seekers and other vulnerable people. 

At the walk, Tamil asylum seeker Geetha Ramachandran described the warm welcome she received from communities she passed through on her 640 kilometre walk to Canberra, to raise awareness about the devastating effects of the “Fast Track” system.  

The kindness shown by those strangers contrasted starkly with the cruel indifference Geetha and her family experienced under the “Fast Track” bureaucracy, which has failed for 10 years to process Geetha’s application for asylum.   

It brought home to me that empathy with refugees, which can lead to compassionate action on their behalf, can be activated through people listening first-hand and responding to those with lived experience.   

I hope our whole diocese can promote awareness of the Walk for Justice for Refugees, from church and school networks, and the Social Responsibilities Committee. 

We must also do more to support collaboration between parishes, and with community groups on social justice issues.  

Many Melbourne churches are already faithfully carrying out this work but are siloed from each other and from church welfare agencies.  

As Anglicans we could play a vital part in fostering a climate of trust in Melbourne if we created communal forums between parishes, schools and neighbourhoods.  

Read more: Short-term visas add to hardship for Palestinian refugees: Advocates

Inviting people of all ages, backgrounds and traditions to connect, reflect and decide how to act together to make change at the local level would nurture hope in dark times.  

The same can be said for other causes for the good of our society, such as the environment, First Nations justice, lay ministry in workplaces, disability and inclusivity.  

While we might not agree on all points, forums would build connections between parishes and empower Anglicans to create theologically-informed plans for building a more just community.  

The upcoming election of a new archbishop is also an opportunity for us all – synod representatives, and lay and ordained Anglicans – to call on the Board of Nominators to prioritise a commitment to justice and collaboration in considering candidates.  

And, through working with other faith communities, we can cultivate an outward-going disposition of hospitality towards other religions while demonstrating our Christian faith in action.  

This would foster religious tolerance in the wider society, which is now sorely needed with reports in recent months of rising anti-Semitism and Islamophobia.  

We saw an example of this on Palm Sunday, where representatives from eight faith traditions read passages from their sacred texts on peace and justice, ideals held in common across our multicultural, multifaith, society. 

As a Church, we urgently need to recover and sustain a social justice mission focus. Living justly (Micah 6:8) is integral to our heeding the gospel imperative to love “in deed and in truth” (1 John 3:18) by following the Spirit’s leading to serve our communities.  

We, the people of God, can be a blessing to this city if we act to create forums for reflection and grass-roots collaboration. Through this we can care for and with those in need, refugees and the vulnerable in our own immediate circles, neighbourhoods, parishes, diocese, and beyond. 

Dr Audrey Statham is a member of the Social Responsibilities Committee and represents the SRC on the committee for the Melbourne Palm Sunday Walk for Justice. She worships at St Mary’s North Melbourne. 

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