Saving refugees’ souls

WHILE it’s now a decade since Pope Benedict XVI consigned limbo to history, WA’s churches are again concerned about souls stuck in an indefinite no-man’s land.

But this time it’s asylum seekers, not the un-baptised, in limbo and 40 organisations including the Catholic, Anglican, Jewish and Uniting Churches are joining the Palm Sunday Walk for Justice for Refugees on March 25.

The walk will go from St George’s Cathedral through the Murray and Hay Street malls and back again. The event kicks off at 1pm.

Imprisoned indefinitely

“This year we are focusing on the injustice of limbo experienced by many people seeking asylum and refugees—either those imprisoned indefinitely on Manus and Nauru, those separated from family and unable to access reunification opportunity, those on temporary protection visas, and calling instead for policies that respond with humanity and compassion to people seeking safety,” says the Uniting Church’s social justice officer Kate Leaney.

“One of the key things is, on Manus or Nauru, people who have been there five years; someone who was a child when they arrived but is now an adult, but with no ability to move on,” Ms Leaney told the Voice.

She says this has profound impacts on both their mental and physical health.

Ms Leaney says even those who make it to Australia on temporary visas still face uncertainty, because they can be blocked from visiting family members overseas—even in a neutral or friendly country—without ever being given reasons why.

“It’s a case-by-case decision,” she says.

• Rev Steve Francis, Tamil refugee James Jegasothy, and the Palm Sunday donkey, in the lead-up to last year’s walk. File photo

Ms Leaney says the case of Fatimah, highlighted recently in The Guardian online news site, was a perfect example.

The Iranian refugee arrived with her son in 2013 just as offshore processing was reinstated. She has now been diagnosed with heart disease and been told she needs urgent surgery not available on Manus Island.

But because her now 16-year-old son is barred from travelling with her for treatment, she won’t leave the island over fears for his safety.

Refugee advocate Bev Hollyock has been following Fatimah’s story and says with International Women’s Day approaching, the issue had her wondering.

“How would most mothers respond to the harsh decision of the Border Force under these circumstances,” Ms Hollyock posed.

“The only reason we even hear about these episodes is the mobile phone that detainees have. Possession of these is under threat from Home Affairs office.”

Ms Hollyock says people should be writing to their local Federal MP asking questions about Fatimah.

Ms Leaney says last year the Palm Sunday walk attracted about 1000 people. She admits there were a few barbed comments along the lines of former prime minister John Howard’s decision to fire broadsides across the bows of refugee boats, but the response was mostly positive.

“We even had some people join the walk who hadn’t known it was on.”

Ms Leaney says sometimes the effort seems futile as conditions for asylum seekers rarely improve, but there are small wins along the way such as keeping kids out of detention centres on the mainland, which makes the effort worthwhile.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s