Refugees: Introduction

July 05, 2018

Refugees: Introduction

Bill Peirson


Beneath our radiant Southern Cross
We’ll toil with hearts and hands;
To make this Commonwealth of ours
Renowned of all the lands;
For those who’ve come across the seas
We’ve boundless plains to share;
With courage let us all combine
To Advance Australia Fair.
In joyful strains then let us sing,
Advance Australia Fair.


The second verse of the Australian national anthem belies almost 20 years of recent, unresolved political contention over refugees in Australia.

In fact, the story of Australia can be told as an ongoing political contention over the settlement of displaced people. Large numbers of white and largely petty criminals forcibly transported to the far end of the earth about 200 years ago, their forced relocation and consequent slavery only ceasing when the rush to gold made such a punishment nonsense. The catastrophic impact of superior weaponry and disease on the local Indigenous people. The survivors who had their existing way of life completely undermined by the new arrivals, forced into ‘refuge’ in reserves set aside for them.

We can tell of two brutal World Wars that left large numbers of people in Europe impoverished and traumatised by the conflict in their homelands—people who fled, or sent their children, to a land of hope far from the zone of conflict.

There is the story of an ensuing world struggle between Marxism and Capitalism fought out in South East Asia, forcing families, fearful of the changing regimes, to pilot rickety boats southward to a safe land of hope on the other side of the Equator. Then, as Marxism imploded under its brutality to those it claimed to save, old resentments re-emerged in Eastern Europe, causing waves of refugees to seek shelter in this Asian archipelago.

We saw the energy crisis and international demand for oil develop, and with it, growing resentment in the Middle East over ongoing international interference in local affairs and demands for direct access to their oil reserves. Conflicts developed and again, victims fled towards Australia.

At each stage in the story, inhabitants have sought to predict the likely impact of each new wave of arrivals. Will we be overwhelmed by a different culture? Will our existing way of life survive? The debates continue.

This edition of Case Quarterly engages with this contentious issue. It contrasts strongly with CQ#43 Home where we reflected on the security of residing and belonging. What would make you pack everything you could carry and flee your home? The numbers of those seeking refuge varies in scale from individuals fleeing domestic violence to thousands fleeing widespread famine or war. For many of us, this is scarcely imaginable, but for millions, it is reality. In this edition, we try to see the world through the eyes of those who have fled.

From beginning to end, the Bible is frank about the reality of flight for survival: from Cain, who succumbs to the evil one, murders and becomes a fugitive, right through to the four terrifying Horsemen of the Apocalypse, patrolling the earth and generating misery by conquest and bloodshed, accompanied by famine and death.

In the midst of this disturbing view of the world, the Bible gives hope to all, constantly affirming that all who seek refuge in God will be blessed.

This may sound like wishful thinking, but the Bible records many beautiful stories of God’s loving protection over the hungry and persecuted: the first Israelite family, faithful Ruth, and Jesus’ flight to escape Herod’s infanticide. There are many others.

In our previous edition of CQ, Stacey Atkinson and I reflected on communities vulnerable to climate change, noting Julian Burnside's observations of Australian government retreat from previously successful refugee policy and procedure. Delightfully, this edition includes a reflection on this relatively happy period of Australian government policy on refugees from one who is a direct beneficiary.

Many of us have no practical concept of what it might mean to be a refugee. What should we do? Mark Bennet and Philip Huggins provide insight from the perspective of Sudanese refugees, from camps in Cairo to settlement in Melbourne respectively. Katherine Theodor adds to this picture with a glimpse into dealing with the trauma many refugees have faced.

It has been a great joy to me to work with Dani and our impressive expert panel of writers as we reflected on this vexed contemporary issue. I hope that you will find this edition both informative and a motivation for better discussion and action in our support of refugees.

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