Can I ask you to count to two … yes – 1, 2!
Why? Because one person is forcibly displaced from their home, somewhere around the globe, every two seconds as a result of conflict or persecution. Hard to fathom, but that’s the real world in 2020, exacerbated by the COVID pandemic.
Now the danger in that exercise is we just think statistics; so let me now ask you to think of people like Fari, Moses, Kevin and Adah. People we have been privileged to have live under our roof or eat at our table, play with our kids, share their stories and teach us more about the real world; not the world according to Peter Dutton or the Australian Murdoch press.
This week is National Refugee Week and we are invited to reflect on this year's theme: "Celebrating the Year of Welcome".
I’ve been pondering that theme again today – it’s a challenge for each of us to consider. What does it look like for me, for you to welcome refugees in our lives? To welcome asylum seekers, to welcome people not like us? To move beyond stereotypes; to address prejudice we might not even like to admit exists in our lives? What does it look like for us to be a voice for people yearning for hope? What does it look like to celebrate cultural diversity day to day? What does it mean for us to stand against entrenched racism? What does it look like to actively seek to learn more about refugee needs around the globe? How can I not be seduced by short-term political thinking and right-wing shock jocks?
The refugees and asylum seekers I have been privileged to know are people not to be feared, They are people not to be labelled, not to used for political point-scoring. They are from different continents – young and old – with unique stories, who share the innate human yearning for hope!
They are beautiful people, whose life circumstances in a broken world, have seen them become refugees and asylum seekers!
They are part of a global picture that we cannot ignore!
Tonight, as I sit comfortably in my home, there are at least 70.8 million people around the world who have been forced to flee their homes. Among them are nearly 25.9 million refugees, over half of whom are under the age of 18. 3.5million people are seeking asylum somewhere around the globe tonight – some of them tragically still locked up offshore or onshore by our Federal Government in appalling conditions.
There are also millions of stateless people, who have been denied a nationality and lack access to basic rights such as education, health care, employment and freedom of movement
Yes refugee and asylum seeker policy is complex.
There are no easy answers. I don’t at all think it’s easy for political leaders. I don’t agree with our current Federal Government’s position, but I don’t pretend to have all the answers. There is a need for genuine debate; sensible discussion; but this can only occur in an environment where all sides of politics are willing to engage in meaningful dialogue, where front and centre are real people – people like Fari, Adah, Moses and Kevin.
From where I sit what we most need is the re-discovery of compassion and courage in our dialogue. We saw this on both sides of the fence with the likes of Whitlam and Fraser in our past. They looked beyond political rhetoric and they modelled the spirit of “welcome”.
We live in a world where too many political leaders have chosen to play the fear card! Yet every day we have the chance in simple and ordinary ways to declare: “You’re welcome here!”
Through a smile, a conversation, a meal – we can declare “Welcome”.
Through an email or phone call to an MP we can be an advocate and declare “Welcome”.
Through hospitality, a visit, a donation, acts of kindness we can declare “Welcome”.
Through volunteering with refugee support groups, we can declare “Welcome”
Through using a spare room for temporary accommodation, we can declare “Welcome”
Through peaceful protest we can declare “Welcome”
In so many different ways we can live as people of welcome in a world where 1 … 2 … can change a life, just like that!