Refugee week is a time for looking at big pictures and little pictures. This year the big picture is bleak. The number of people who flee across land borders to escape war and persecution has grown, especially in the Middle East and in Africa. They are often escaping from religious persecution, but their flight takes them into the path of international conflict and of the bombs that respect neither religion, nationality nor life itself.
In western nations our attention has been focused more narrowly on people who have taken to boats to escape, sometimes from persecution, sometimes from the grinding poverty caused by civil wars. The Australian solution – preventing people from making a claim on us for protection by pushing the away – has attracted many politicians in Europe. It has also been adopted by our neighbouring countries. They have batted boats from one territory to another and back again, without allowing them to land.
Refugee Week allows us to look at these large situations and to say there must be a better way. But it also allows us to focus on the small picture. That is where we learn why we should bother with refugees and asylum seekers at all. The little picture shows the faces of hungry, thirsty and afraid people trapped on the boats shuttling between nations. It shows the face of a child crying for her detained father, of families running from men who will kill them for their faith, and from the bombs dropped by their self-styled defenders. It shows the face of the young sailor charged with pushing back these desperate people, and our own faces as we recognise what is being done in our name.
Refugee week offers us space to look at these faces, to care for those close to us, and to demand a better way that respects and care for them. But how to do this?
The Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA), convened by Jesuit Social Services, suggests a way. It, gathers Catholic Institutions and individuals to build a collective Catholic voice to change the Australian treatment of asylum seekers. Its members include the Australian Catholic University, Catholic Health Australia and Caritas. It provides a platform for sharing resources, ideas and inspiration, and for encouraging and inviting more people to join together to supporting people who seek protection.
Johanna Burns, from Jesuit Social Services, the convenor of CAPSA, explained, ‘As people come together in supporting asylum seekers, their activities will grow and become more effective. Anything each of us does, by collecting food to share with asylum seekers, offering friendship and comfort, helping with housing, or joining others in speaking up for them, will help make a more caring society’.