With Courage Let Us All Combine: Celebrating Refugee Week
Spending four months at the United Nations with the IBVM/Loreto non-government office provides a unique opportunity to view refugees from a global perspective. Recently, Member States gathered at the UN to discuss and debate the development of two Global Compacts on Migration and Refugees. Despite the many different perspectives and interests there was a general consensus that the movement of peoples is a global challenge which involves nations, the private sector and civil society. The three-year theme for Australia’s Refugee Week, With Courage Let Us All Combine, highlights the desire of UN Member States to come to a common agreement on ways of responding to and supporting refugees.
It is here, at the UN, listening to the presentations from nations, organisations and civil society groups that the tragedy and complexity of the vast movement of people seeking refuge or a better life is most starkly revealed. Sub-Saharan Africa hosts 26% of the world’s refugees – countries which, at their best, struggle with poverty, famine and unemployment. Turkey, a place of refuge for those fleeing violence and conflict in the Middle East, has the largest refugee population in the world, around 3.2 million. Such statistics can cause our eyes to glaze over but they do call into question Australia’s commitment, as a wealthy nation, to alleviating the dislocation and loss of people seeking asylum.
At one panel discussion a group of academics and policy experts pointed out the benefits of migrants and refugees to the receiving countries. Research indicates that refugees are among the most productive entrepreneurs and small business owners across the globe. Having lost everything, they work hard, have every incentive to make a go of their lives, are keen to pay their taxes and want to contribute to the community. They tend to be young and are important to the growth and productivity of countries with aging populations.
Such positive affirmation of the contribution of refugees is lost in the face of the current and increasing rhetoric of hate and abuse. Minister after Minister, at the UN Forum, lamented the negative and abusive language directed at refugees and asylum seekers and the tension and division this caused. A recent service at the Temple Emmanuel, where an invited Imam preached the sermon, had both Rabbi and Imam noting the rapid increase in Islamophobia and anti-Semitism. Refugee Week provides an opportunity to shine a light on the positive contribution refugees make, and have made, to Australia.
Refugee Week is also a celebration of the diversity, the richness of culture, the sheer broadening of our outlook on life which refugees bring. It is a reminder of the courage it takes to leave home with nothing, spend months and years in the debilitating boredom and anxiety of refugee camps and then come to a completely strange country without language or social supports. Read about some refugees who have overcome extraordinary circumstances to make a positive life in Australia at: the Refugee Council, the House of Welcome and Jesuit Refugee Service. Ask yourself: How can I support a refugee family? Who can I invite to my home? Is there a message I want to give the government about refugees?
Words: Coordinator Loreto JPIC, Libby Rogerson IBVM