I AM a young adult who has given 12 months of my life to work with refugees and asylum seekers with the Sisters of St Joseph in Sydney.
I was greatly saddened to read Mr J. Williams’ letter (CL 14/9/03) and would like to address some of his comments with facts from Amnesty International, UNHCR, the Jesuit Social Justice Centre and the Edmund Rice Centre.
I agree that people smuggling is a crime. Refugees will pool their resources to send a single relative to safety, paying criminals between $A4000 and $A5000 to travel to Australia in overcrowded and unsafe boats. However this does not mean that that they do not have legitimate reasons to seek refuge in Australia
The majority of recent boat people have come from Afghanistan and Iraq. Over 90 per cent of these people have been found to be genuine refugees. When they arrive they see little of the ‘good life where they no longer have to worry about earning money’ that Mr Williams speaks of.
Any asylum seeker who arrives in Australia undocumented, and who is later granted refugee status, is initially entitled to a three-year temporary protection visa (TPV).
Under the conditions of the TPVs, when they are released from detention centres refugees are given no assistance in finding accommodation, bond money, employment and learning English.
The only taxpayers’ money that is wasted on these people is in the ‘Pacific Solution’ and the cost of detaining asylum seekers. Sending asylum seekers to New Zealand, Nauru and Papua New Guinea has cost us over $20 million. Mandatory detention of asylum seekers is also wasting our money. Detention of one asylum seeker costs us $104 a day!
A select committee of the NSW Parliament has looked into alternatives such as parole and home detention for asylum seekers while the legitimacy of their claim is being assessed. These alternatives have been costed at as little as $3.94 a head.
As a Christian I believe that we are called to extend our hands and our hearts to welcome refugees into the ‘lucky country’. Jesus said: ‘As I have loved you, so you must love one another’ (Jn 13:34). It a basic tenet of our faith that we share God’s unconditional and limitless love with others, especially the stranger in need.
I have been blessed with the opportunity to work directly with refugees and asylum seekers, to meet them in person and hear their stories. The refugees that I meet are mostly Christians from Sudan, who were tortured and imprisoned and eventually had to flee their much loved homes and country for their beliefs. Most had walked for weeks to the neighbouring countries of Egypt and Kenya where they were given no choice but to return home to face persecution or wait for five or six years for another country to give them protection.
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