From Rev Dr John Squires
Presbytery Minister - Wellbeing
It was good to hear news this week about the Murugappan family, held for so long in detention on Christmas Island, but soon, apparently, to be reunited in community detention in Perth, whilst the two daughters receive medical attention.
The family of four—Priya and Nadesalingam Murugappan, who have been in Australia for almost a decade, and Kopika and Tharunicaa, who were both born in Australia--are not just “the Biloela family”, even though they did settle into that community in Queensland some years ago, nor are they just “the Tamil family” being held in offshore detention. They have names. See https://www.abc.net.au/news/2019-08-30/who-are-tamil-family-from-biloela-why-are-they-being-deported/11463276
But I think that we should not get carried away with this week's news that the Murugappan family will be reunited in Perth. First, the Murugappan family will continue to be held in community detention in Perth. They are not being permitted to return, ultimately, to the life that they had made in the Biloela community—where they were well-accepted and greatly loved. They are still to be held in limbo, not yet permitted to be considered as legitimate refugees within Australian society, not yet permitted to make application for permanent residency, not yet permitted to plan for a longterm future in this country. The heartless policy of this government remains clear and obvious. See
Second, this is just one small sampling of people who for years have been held—in direct contradiction to international law—in offshore detention. ThenRefugee Council of Australia reports that there are currently 1,483 people in closed detention (367 of whom came by boat, seeking asylum), while there are another 537 being held in community detention. That’s over 2,000 people being held in limbo—some of them for many years—while an unresponsive and heartless system defers any real action in responding to the situation of these people. See https://www.refugeecouncil.org.au/detention-australia-statistics/
Third, and most troubling, let’s not forget that our government policy of detention and restriction (including minimal access to health services) has seen no less than twelve refugees and asylum seekers die whilst in detention under the care of Australia. And whilst there has been community response in each case, the government policy has remained steadfastly heartless and unresponsive. And the whole Australian community has been complicit in allowing this terrible situation to continue. See https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/ng-interactive/2018/jun/20/deaths-in-offshore-detention-the-faces-of-the-people-who-have-died-in-australias-care?
Finally, the situation with the Murugappan family exposes the lie that Australia is built on, and operates by, a “Judeo-Christian ethic”. Our two decades of heartless refugee and asylum seeker policy have been in breach of international law and contrary to the principles articulated in scripture by prophet, sage, evangelist, and apostle. Welcome the stranger, care for the outcast, offer hospitality to the visitor, provide water to the thirsty and food to the hungry: commands that were central to the ancient Israelite ethos, that continued to be advocated in the teaching of Jesus, and that are central to the ethic of faithful Jews and Christians today. See https://johntsquires.com/2020/11/16/a-final-parable-from-the-book-of-origins-on-sheep-and-goats-on-judgement-and-righteous-justice-matt-25/
The Uniting Church has long had a clear commitment to providing a place of welcome and safety in this country, to people coming from situations where they were experiencing oppression or persecution. We should be continuing to lobby our federal members to ensure that our country welcomes refugees and asylum seekers.