Poster by Integral Human Development.

On Sunday 24 September 2023, we celebrated the Vatican’s 109th World Day of Migrants and Refugees. In his message, Pope Francis has expressed that freedom must determine the decision to leave one’s native land.

Free to leave, free to stay.

World Day of Migrants and Refugees is a day to reflect and honour the resilience and courage of the now 100 million men, women and children who have been forcibly displaced from their homes.

As a Josephite Action Group (JAG) volunteer, I have had the privilege to listen to the testimonies of the unimaginable experiences of those who have come to seek refuge in Australia. Among these disturbing stories of rape, terrorisation, torture, and loss, it is difficult to ignore the common theme of hope that they all seem to have.

Many migrants and refugees have narrowly escaped unimaginable circumstances, some have come just short of death, and yet they have emerged alive and continue to remain hopeful. Being witness to these testimonies has allowed me to see that it is indeed possible to overcome extreme adversity and continue living even when everything has fallen apart.

For I was hungry, and you gave me food, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked, and you gave me clothing, I was sick, and you took care of me, I was in prison, and you visited me.(Mt 25:35-36)

In order to live faithfully to the Gospel, it is not enough for us to perceive migrants and refugees as fellow humans who are experiencing hardship. The lived experience of migrants and refugees enable all of us to witness hope in action, in turn, this inspires us to open our hearts and love as Christ taught us. As Christians we are called to walk with those who are least well off, those who are marginalised from society and those who are most vulnerable. It is of vital importance that we bolster the integrity and dignity of all migrants and refugees within our communities.

Pope Francis calls all people to walk together with migrants and refugees to encounter Christ in our daily lives. As Josephites, encountering Christ in all who we meet, especially those who are vulnerable and marginalised from society will bolster the continuity of Mary MacKillop’s legacy and mission to “love one another, bear with one another and let charity guide you all your life”.

Displacement and forced exit are being experienced in almost all parts of our world. There are now more people running from war, political and civil unrest, and natural disasters than there have ever been since the end of the Second World War. Despite this devasting reality, the decision to migrate and seek refuge is regrettably not free. In several economically wealthy nations such as Australia, the United States, and the United Kingdom the approach and treatment of refugees and migrants could not be further from dignifying, respectful or humane. Instead, the approach and treatment of migrants and refugees in these nations is focused on containment, deterrence, and return.

World Day of Migrants and Refugees is a reminder to us all that these nations, Australia in particular, must rethink their approach to refugees and migrants. Australia must move away from aggression, fear, and prejudice and realise it’s international and moral responsibility to protect and dignify those seeking refuge and create a safe and welcoming nation for all to have a place to call home.

You may be wondering, what issues need to be addressed? What can we do? As people of the Gospel, Pope Francis calls us to address these issues:

  • The arms race
  • Economic colonialism
  • The plundering of people’s resources
  • The devastation of our common home

Research demonstrates that these issues of injustice are the key reasons why so many migrants and refugees are not given the freedom of migration and refuge. It is our moral responsibility, as Australian people of the Gospel, to demand change from our government. As Josephites, we urge the Australian government to adopt new and carefully advised policies that will establish a clear pathway of support and inclusivity for all people seeking migration and refuge.

As a nation with a rich history of migration and multiculturalism we must be the lead advocates in ensuring freedom determines the decision to leave one’s native land. As a nation we must uphold the rights, dignity, and freedom of all those who have been forced to perish from their native land.

Emilia Nicholas
JAG Volunteer
Josephite Justice Network