by Helen Lockwood
There are 65 million people across the world seeking refuge. People who have been forced to flee conflict and oppression and who can’t go home. Some reach the relative safety of a refugee camp, others continue to struggle to find a place of safety and many die.
A very small proportion of those 65 million people come to Australia and New Zealand. Most of them carry the effects of trauma through war, dislocation and witnessing the deaths of family and friends. But they also come with hope for safety and a new life.
How are these people received by us? What are we doing as members of the Christian community and as part of our Australian and New Zealand societies to welcome the most recent wave of new arrivals?
These questions are challenging for us as individuals and for individual churches. The National Council of Churches of Australia formed the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce (ACRT) to provide a way of combining the efforts of churches and church agencies in providing advocacy and support for new arrivals.
ACRT bases its work on the understanding that we are all created in the image of God and so lead lives that reflect love of our neighbour. Living out the Christian faith includes welcoming the stranger and supporting those going through hard times. We are also called to challenge unjust systems, and this is done more effectively when churches work together.
ACRT has advocated for an end to children in detention, for sanctuary for those who need to stay in Australia for medical and mental health reasons, and currently, through ‘Dignity not Destitution’, for an end to the policy that cuts off all support to some families who are waiting for years for an outcome to their visa applications.
No matter who is in government, Christians have the opportunity to influence the way people are treated. To say nothing can appear to condone what is happening to those who seek safety here. So, as a coalition of churches, ACRT ‘seeks to encourage truth and integrity in public discourse, especially that the truth of people’s lives be upheld. We seek generous, hospitable and compassionate policies because we believe that God’s will for society is that every person has the opportunity to flourish and that God’s abundant and grace-filled love is offered to every person without distinction’.
The taskforce is also interested in encouraging individuals and groups within churches to live out their faith in welcoming and supporting new arrivals. Many congregations, communities and individuals are already deeply engaged in this work, and we can learn from their commitment and care.
Helen Lockwood is the LCA/NZ representative to the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, a member of the LCA’s Prevention of Domestic and Family Violence Campaign working group and a former director of the SA-NT District’s Lutheran Community Care.