Asylum Seekers and Refugees

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The following guideline and discussion questions relate directly to the Positional Statement, Asylum Seekers and Refugees (2006) and should be considered in the context of this document, which is included in the text.

The Salvation Army recognises that the ability to seek asylum is a basic human right, with all people having the right to life, liberty and security of person.

The debate about asylum seekers, and specifically those arriving by boat, is having a polarising impact on the Australian community. The Salvation Army is involved in working with asylum seekers and refugees from different backgrounds and methods of arrival in a range of settings.

The Salvation Army advocates for the development of proactive, compassionate and appropriate human rights focused policies in relation to all asylum seekers. It is imperative that domestic legislation upholds and promotes those human rights and ensures appropriate humane standards of treatment and conditions for detainees in line with relevant international conventions.

We are concerned that such standards are not always being met and this puts at risk the health and wellbeing of those adults and children seeking asylum, as well as places Australia’s international reputation at risk. The Salvation Army believes that Australia should not only meet its international requirements, but should go above and beyond those appropriate humane standards set to ensure that those who seek asylum in Australia are met with compassion and given a high level of human safety.

The Salvation Army has clearly stated its position that a country with the wealth and resources of Australia should be able to process, in a timely period, and then settle asylum seekers who are granted refugee status. The practice of detaining asylum seekers in Off-shore Processing Centres severely restricts their access to basic rights and services including legal representation, education, translators and advocacy and health services. This approach impacts on the mental, physical and emotional health of asylum seekers and lacks compassion and dignity.

Off-Shore Processing shifts this responsibility to other countries that do not have infrastructure or adequate resources to undertake this processing and settlement. While we recognise the importance of deterring asylum seekers making hazardous sea journeys with people smugglers, The Salvation Army believes that more humane and compassionate policies can be put in place to achieve this objective.

For these reasons, The Salvation Army does not, in any way, support off-shore processing. Our guiding principles compel our organisation to provide assistance and holistic support to vulnerable people in all circumstances. This has influenced The Salvation Army’s decision to work with the Australian Government to provide welfare support to asylum seekers in all situations, be it in off-shore settings, in refugee camps, in community detention, or as part of the community.

The Salvation Army also operates Migrant and Refugee Assistance Programs. These programs offer a range of support mechanisms, including material aid, personal support and access to mainstream community networks. Each year, thousands of asylum seekers and refugees who have been released into the community, often with no work rights and very limited income, seek assistance from our emergency relief and homelessness services. It should also be noted that men and women awaiting refugee status determination are presenting regularly for accommodation in our homeless refuges and shelters.

It is important to remember that The Salvation Army comprises individuals, and it is these individuals who need to live out the ethos and values of The Salvation Army in the context of how we work with those seeking asylum. It is not enough to merely issue organisational statements.

Who are Refugees?

The 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (and its 1967 Protocol), to which Australia is a signatory, defines a refugee as:

Any person who, owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is outside the country of his/her nationality and is unable, or owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country.

The important parts of this definition are:

  • that the person has to be outside their country of origin
  • the reason for their flight has to be a fear of persecution
  • this fear of persecution has to be well founded (i.e. they have to have experienced it or be likely to experience it if they return)
  • the persecution has to result from one or more of the five grounds listed in the definition
  • they have to be unwilling or unable to seek the protection of the authorities in their country

The United Nations body responsible for protecting refugees and overseeing adherence to the Refugee Convention is the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

Who are Asylum Seekers?

An asylum seeker is a person seeking protection as a refugee and is still waiting to have his/her claim assessed. The Refugee Convention definition (together with the Complimentary Protection framework) is used by the Australian Government to determine whether our country has protection obligations towards asylum seekers. If an asylum seeker who has reached Australia is found to be a refugee, Australia is obliged under international law to offer protection and to ensure that the person is not sent back unwillingly to a country in which they risk being persecuted.

The first paragraph of our Positional Statement, says, ‘The Salvation Army is greatly concerned by the many millions of people fleeing or being displaced from their homes and countries because of a well- founded fear of persecution. Many of these have experienced significant grief and trauma, which have potential long-term consequences for their health and well-being.’

Biblical Perspectives

As Salvationists, it is important to note that the means by which we respond to the needs of asylum seekers and refugees needs to be motivated by our love for God. Our first priority as Christ followers is to demonstrate our love for God by loving others (Matthew 22:35–40). Our demonstrations of practical love need to be given unconditionally without discrimination, irrespective of cultural or religious background (see Luke 10:25–37).

The mission of The Salvation Army is unapologetically Christ-centred in essence and evangelical in methodology, however, in matters where cultural and religious sensitivity is required, understanding and respect needs to be exercised. The Salvation Army is committed to the alleviation of human suffering and distress. This will always be offered in a spirit of love and grace. The offer of advocacy and assistance is not dependent upon an individual’s particular cultural or religious bias.

The Salvation Army respects the rights of all individuals in matters of cultural and religious expression, and when such sensitivity is required, overt demonstrations of Christian evangelicalism and proselytising is considered inappropriate and disrespectful to those we are called to serve.

Read the account of Jesus’ escape to Egypt with His parents in Matthew 2:13–23; Exodus 23:9; Leviticus 19:9–10; Psalm 146:7–9; Matthew 22:35–40; Matthew 25:31–40; and Hebrews 13:1–3

Salvationists’ Responses

Is there anything practical you could do, individually, to help those who are refugees in Australia?

Possibilities could include:

  • lobbying government.
  • writing to your local member of parliament.
  • peacefully protesting at demonstration rallies.
  • writing to your local paper on issues of concern.
  • thinking about practical ways your community may be welcoming to others.
  • there may be former refugees involved in the ministry of your mission centre or corps. Ask them to share their story through Warcry or On Fire as a means of raising awareness concerning the asylum seeker/refugee experience.
  • consider holding intercultural awareness classes within your corps to help increase understanding and the acquiring of skills in ‘welcome’ and communication.
  • advertise and hold conversational English classes to help those within your community whose first language is one other than English.
  • purchase from Salvationist Supplies a copy of Emmaline Rabbit to be used in ministry and education with children and their leaders and/or parents.

Further Reading

Suggestions for those who wish to explore this issue at a deeper level:

Positional Statement on Social Justice (1995)

Guidelines for Salvationists on Social Justice (1995)

The Salvation Army’s Election Statement on Asylum Seekers and Refugees (2013 federal election)

Just Salvos

Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce

The Happiest Refugee, Anh Do, (Allen & Unwin), 2010. (The extraordinary true story of a boy’s journey from starvation at sea to becoming one of Australia’s best-loved comedians.)

Go Back to Where You Came From, Cordell Jigsaw Productions, 2011, SBS Documentary series 1. Available on DVD or download on iTunes; 216 minutes. In this ground-breaking three-part series, six ordinary Australians agree to challenge their preconceived notions about refugees and asylum seekers by embarking on a confronting 25-day journey.

Emmaline Rabbit, Salvo Publishing. A book that helps inform children about the issues surrounding refugees. It also includes teaching notes and project ideas for adults.

The Immigration Crisis, James Hoffmeier. This explores the response to immigrants in the Bible and highlights lessons for the modern church.

Appendix A

What does the 1951 UN Convention say regarding provision for asylum seekers and refugees?
‘Grounded in Article 14 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948, which recognizes the right of persons to seek asylum from persecution in other countries, the United Nations Convention relating to the Status of Refugees, adopted in 1951, is the centrepiece of international refugee protection today. The Convention entered into force on 22 April 1954, and it has been subject to only one amendment in the form of a 1967 Protocol, which removed the geographic and temporal limits of the 1951 Convention [giving] the Convention universal coverage (p.2).

‘The Convention is…underpinned by a number of fundamental principles, most notably non-discrimination, non-penalization and non-refoulement [a principle whereby it is forbidden for true victims of persecution to be returned to their persecutor; this generally refers to a country or government]. Convention provisions, for example, are to be applied without discrimination as to race, religion or country of origin. Developments in international human rights law also reinforce the principle that the Convention be applied without discrimination as to sex, age, disability, sexuality, or other prohibited grounds of discrimination (p.3).

‘The Convention further stipulates that, subject to specific exceptions, refugees should not be penalized for their illegal entry or stay. This recognizes that the seeking of asylum can require refugees to breach immigration rules. Prohibited penalties might include being charged with immigration or criminal offences relating to the seeking of asylum, or being arbitrarily detained purely on the basis of seeking asylum. Importantly, the Convention contains various safeguards against the expulsion of refugees. The principle of non-refoulement is so fundamental that no reservations or derogations may be made to it. It provides that no one shall expel or return a refugee against his or her will, in any manner whatsoever, to a territory where he or she fears threats to life or freedom.

‘Finally, the Convention lays down basic minimum standards for the treatment of refugees, without prejudice to States granting more favourable treatment. Such rights include access to the courts, to primary education, to work, and the provision for documentation, including a refugee travel document in passport form. Most States parties to the Convention issue this document, which has become as widely accepted as the former “Nansen passport”, an identity document for refugees devised by the first Commissioner for Refugees, Fridtjof Nansen, in 1922.’ (p.3)

Appendix B

Since 24 March 2012, there has been an additional basis for persons to claim asylum in Australia. This is known as ‘complementary protection.’

Complementary protection is the term used to describe a category of protection for people who do not satisfy the definition of a refugee as outlined in the Refugees Convention, but who also cannot be returned to their home country, because there is a real risk that they would suffer significant harm if removed from Australia to a receiving country. ‘Significant harm’ means:

  • arbitrary deprivation of a person’s life
  • the death penalty
  • torture
  • cruel or inhuman treatment or punishment
  • degrading treatment or punishment.

Appendix C

  1. How does the mission of The Salvation Army relate to the plight of asylum seekers and refugees

    Note our international mission statement: ‘The Salvation Army, an international movement, is an evangelical branch of the universal Christian Church. Its message is based on the Bible; its ministry motivated by love for God. This mission is both spiritual and practical, encompassing the preaching of the gospel of Jesus Christ and alleviating human suffering and distress without discrimination.

  2. Do you know or have you had contact with a person who came to live in Australia as a refugee, and what do you know about the challenges faced by individual refugees and asylum seekers?

  3. What do you know about the global issue of asylum seekers and refugees?

  4. What direct effect could asylum seekers and refugees have upon the life of Australians, and what do you know about government responses or actions regarding the issue?

  5. Prior to the 2013 federal election, The Salvation Army issued nine key election statements which highlighted structural inequalities that existed within the lives of people living in poverty, experiencing homelessness, inadequate housing, poor health, limited education options and few employment opportunities. The Salvation Army asked all political parties to give consideration to these statements and the proffered recommendations.

    The fifth statement specifically addressed the issue of asylum seekers and refugees, calling all political parties in Australia to commit to the following:

    - The development of alternatives to the off-shore processing and detention of asylum seekers. To reiterate, while we recognise the importance of deterring asylum seekers making hazardous sea journeys with people smugglers, The Salvation Army believes that more humane and compassionate polices can be put in place to achieve this objective. To this end, discussion about the development of a better communication and prevention model engaging Australia’s regional partners must be undertaken, and such a discussion would be strongly supported by The Salvation Army.

    - Reversal of the decision to excise the Australian mainland and islands for the purpose of the Migration Act;

    - The processing of all claims being commenced promptly on arrival and completed within the shortest possible timeframe, taking into account the need for health, character and security checks;

    - The urgent review of the decision to deny asylum seekers on bridging visas work rights while they are waiting processing. At the very least, a program to provide community work opportunities and other options to participate in the community should be made available;

    - The provision of additional emergency relief funding to approved agencies, in targeted locations, in recognition of the growing burden on their resources caused by increased demand from asylum seekers and refugees;

    - Revisit the recommendations of the Expert Panel on Asylum Seekers (The Houston Report), particularly focusing on reviewing our humanitarian intake and the strong recommendations to build the capacity of countries in this region to develop effective, humane responses to the challenges posed by asylum seekers; and

    - Ensure that asylum seekers and refugees have access to support.

    i. What is your personal response to these statements and recommendations?
    ii. What do you think about The Salvation Army issuing statements that challenge government policies which appear to contravene human rights and humanitarian concerns?

  6. When you read the parable of the good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37),

    i. What does this story say with regard to our personal attitudes towards:
    - those who have been victimised through no fault of their own?
    - those who have the power to help the vulnerable?
    - ourselves, when confronted with the opportunity to help those in obvious need?

    ii. In the context of this parable:
    - who is our neighbour?
    - what should our attitude be toward those who appeal for our assistance?
    - what should our attitude and response be to policies which contravene people’s rights?
  7. Could The Salvation Army be further involved in the plight of asylum seekers and refugees? If so, how?

  8. Paragraph four of our Positional Statement speaks of the sovereign right of nations to take reasonable measures to control who crosses their borders.
    i. What do you think a government’s approach should be regarding border control and protection?
    ii. How does this relate to your biblical understanding of how we, as Christians and Salvationists, are called to treat the ‘outsider’, the ‘alien’, the ‘asylum seeker’?

  9. Paragraph five of our Positional Statement says, ‘The Salvation Army believes that asylum seekers should not be held in detention for any longer than the shortest period necessary…”
    How might The Salvation Army choose to advocate for those held in detention?

  10. Paragraph six of our Positional Statement says, ‘The Salvation Army believes that the family unit is the fundamental building block of society and that in the processing of asylum seekers, priority should be given to maintaining the integrity of the family unit. Special protection and assistance should be given to children. Unaccompanied children should not be kept in detention, and families with children should be given priority and released in the shortest possible time.’

Do you think The Salvation Army does enough to advocate and seek to protect those held in detention? Discuss this also in relation to families and children.

Approved December 2014