This year’s International Migrants Day on 18 December comes at a critical moment in the history of our country and world.
There is no doubt that COVID-19 has forced us, across all areas of our lives, to reconsider who we are and where we stand. It has surely been a momentous year for us, both as Australians and as Christians.
The theme of International Migrants Day 2021, “more than migrants”, highlights this and invites us to reimagine migration and the courageous expression of each migrant’s resolve to overcome huge obstacles in search of a safe and fulfilling life.
Every one of us in Australia, if we are not a member of the First Nations community, is a migrant or the descendant of migrants. Those of us who have delved into our family history can tell of the nerve, audacity and resilience of our ancestors, who risked all to come to this country, which for many must have seemed the end of the world. Because we know that they were indeed “more than migrants”, we take pride in their legacy and our heritage.
This International Migrants Day, we are invited once again, but in a new way, to recognise the daring of those who continue to take this step today, and to celebrate their dreams, knowledge and aspirations.
The theme of this International Migrants Day reflects Pope Francis’ theme of “towards an ever wider we” for the 107th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Francis is unremitting in his call for a commitment from all of us to embrace each migrant and newcomer to Australia as a welcome and valued member of our whole human family.
Francis returns, time and time again, to his dreams for the human family, that we “embrace everyone, build communion in diversity, and unify differences without imposing a depersonalised uniformity”. From the beginning of his pontificate, he has insisted that “in encountering the diversity of foreigners, migrants and refugees, and in the intercultural dialogue that can emerge from this encounter, we have an opportunity to grow as Church and to enrich one another”.
As Australian Christians, we know that our country’s record is far from exemplary in this regard. We are acutely aware that Australia needs a new heart and a new way to show mercy – for those urgently seeking safety as they try to escape torture and suffering in their own lands, and for those already in Australia, suffering under this country’s inadequate and self-serving policy of injustice and cruelty.
Pope Francis declared this year as the Year of Joseph, and Joseph the patron saint of refugees. The 150 Days of Action for Refugees engaged thousands of Australians in prayer, reflection and action for refugees. The moving vigil on Migrant and Refugee Sunday was a compelling conclusion to these days and called on the Australian Government for greater justice and integrity towards all those seeking safety and a fair deal. For us as Josephites, it had special significance, and reminded us of our core commitment to those pushed to the margins.
As we prepare for a Federal Election, we continue to demand of all candidates what we must demand – as Australians and as Christians:
- That this country increase the intake of Afghan refugees, including those families of people already here
- That we provide income support and a financial safety net for refugees, and reinstate government-funded legal assistance
- That we end temporary protection visas, and provide a clear, pathway to permanent residency
- That we afford access to family reunions for all refugees and people seeking asylum
We can do no less.
Jan Barnett rsj
Josephite Justice Co-ordinator