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Australia’s refugees respond to jibe from Peter Dutton

Fr Lam Vu

New home: Capuchin Father Fr Lam Vu outside St Mary’s Church, South Brisbane. Photos: Emilie Ng

FR Lam Vu, refugee, architect and now Capuchin priest is grateful to God and to Australia for allowing his family to settle in the lucky country.

Fr Vu, who is parish priest at St Mary’s, South Brisbane, was willing to respond to comments made by Immigration Minister Peter Dutton that refugees are uneducated, unemployable and at the same time “taking Australian jobs”.

In an interview with Sky News on May 17, Mr Dutton said: “They won’t be numerate or literate in their own language, let alone English. These people would be taking Australian jobs, there’s no question about that.”

Fr Vu, was born in Vietnam in 1971, and fled with his family before finally arriving in Inala on Brisbane’s south-west.  

He was eight years old, the second youngest of nine children.

“I don’t know where I would be or what I would do, if Australia didn’t receive us,” he said. 

“If accepting a refugee person like me takes away Australian jobs and benefits, and is costly to the country, then aren’t we taking away the benefits of people that refugee person will touch in the future?  

“How else would these people come to know God and be cared for, if I didn’t come?  

“St Francis of Assisi once said, ‘For it is in giving, that we receive’.” 

Fr Vu completed his primary education at Darra-Jindalee Catholic primary school, now Our Lady of the Sacred Heart, and attended three state schools in Inala, Oxley and Indooroopilly.

He completed a Bachelor of Architecture at the University of Queensland and worked for three years in an architectural firm in Tweed Heads and in Brisbane.

Fr Vu was struck by the impact of poverty during a visit to his home country Vietnam in 1996.

After a few years of prayer and discernment about God’s will for his life, Fr Vu entered the Capuchin order in 1999, and was ordained nine years later, at his home parish of St Mark’s, Inala.

“I’m very grateful firstly to God and secondly to Australia for allowing my family and myself to settle in Australia,” Fr Vu said. 

“Living in Australia has allowed me to receive so many blessings and the opportunities of life have been tremendous.  

“So much so, that these blessings have allowed me to choose a path of serving God by ministering to people of Australia as a priest.  

“It gives me immense joy when I see these people happy and loving God.”

Mr Dutton’s refugee comments have been widely condemned. 

Edmund Rice Centre director and Refugee Council president Phil Glendenning described the comments as a blatant attempt to appeal to the lowest common denominator of society – prejudice and bigotry.

“Not only are these comments inaccurate, they are deeply offensive to the hundreds of thousands of refugees who have come to our country over many generations,” Mr Glendenning said.

 “Peter Dutton’s comments are simply contradictory – if refugees are illiterate, innumerate and ‘lurking about on unemployment queues’ how will they ‘take Australian jobs’? 

“As the saying goes, never let facts and logic get in the way of a scare campaign.

“The fact is Australia can and should take more refugees – in 1949 alone we resettled 90,000 refugees.

“Refugees and their children have gone on to become successful business people, doctors, academics, actors and sports players.

“All research indicates that refugees provide an economic benefit to the nation.”

Evangelisation Brisbane director Clyde Cosentino, as a community refugee lawyer since 2001, has dealt with hundreds of cases. 

He said it was commonly the educated members of strife-torn countries – professionals, leaders and academics – who sought protection in Australia; particularly those fearing persecution based on political opinion, membership of a particular social group or religion.

“In these instances, these are the people who make a difference and challenge unjust structures in the homeland, thus forcing these people to flee their country of origin in search of protection,” Mr Cosentino said.

Clyde Cosentino

Speaking out: Clyde Cosentino. Photo: Mark Bowling.

He quoted the 1951 Refugee Convention to underline the definition of a refugee: 

“A 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 (or her) nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself (or herself) of the protection of that country … ”

Mr Cosentino said he was surprised that Mr Dutton would make such unsubstantiated, contradictory and conflicting remarks as Minister for Immigration during an election campaign.

“I would have thought that the more intelligent thing would have been to unite the goodwill and compassion of the entire Australian nation to refugee women, children and men broken by war,” he said.

“It is insulting to the many decades of refugees who have come to Australia, educated, and who educate themselves, and have done so very well here in this country.”

Mr Cosentino pointed to his own family experience.

“Both my grandfathers came by boat from Italy to Australia. I learnt of the poverty and difficult political life they left behind,” he said.

“Both my grandfathers came with very little education yet worked in very difficult conditions cutting cane and trying to support their families. 

“Years on, my grandfathers’ children, grandchildren and great-children have worked as a builder, a lawyer, an engineer, an electrician, an instrument fitter, a nurse, a computer programmer or are currently studying at university, and the list goes on.

“This is the flow-on effect of hard work and wanting to make good in Australia.” 

Mr Cosentino said the real success of immigration could be observed over generations.

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