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Easter Breakfast/Luncheon Address

ROMANS 5:1-11

26th/27th March 2002

Some asylum seekers, coming illegally by boat, organised by people smugglers, were detained by the Navy and prevented from landing. To force the navy to take them on-board and to land, some of the asylum seekers held their children over the side and threatened to drop them into the sea. No, this was not in Australian waters, and it was not last November. It was in Italian waters and was just last week. It was the Italian navy and the asylum seekers were not Afghans but Kurds.

One of the great new facts of our time has been the worldwide trend by asylum seekers to seek refuge in other lands because of the rise of terrorism in their own countries of origin. The biggest story in the UK today is the number of people trying to enter the United Kingdom illegally. Tens of thousands have been smuggled through the Chunnel. The largest detention centre in the world costing hundreds of millions of pounds and due to be opened in the south of England has just been burnt to the ground. In France the biggest story is the asylum seekers from North Africa. In Greece and Italy it is the Kurds from Turkey. In Germany it is the Turks from Turkey. In USA it is the wet-backs from Mexico and Cuba as more than a million every year are smuggled across the boarder. In the year 2000, more than 250 Afghans drowned trying to land on Australian soil. In Florida, it seemed all of Miami was shaken by political and ethnic strife over the attempts to send back the 6-year-old Cuban boy Elian Gonzalez who was found floating on a tyre tube after his mother and others drowned. A dozen politicians have since been dumped by the voters who hated their response of not accepting Elian.

Why, at the opening of the twenty-first century has asylum seekers and international people movements become the most difficult political problem facing all Western countries? It has been partly because people in under-developed country have for the first time seen, via television, the life style of the rest of the world and they desire their share. And partly because of the rise of terrorism in their countries making living there undesirable.

Throughout the twentieth century, countless groups earned infamy by their violent acts of terrorism. Political assassinations, kidnappings, bombings, lynchings, hijackings and governmental overthrow have stunned the world. In recent decades, terrorism has become an increasing threat, especially when it comes to air travel. From the destruction of the Los Angeles Times building in the 1910, to the truck bombs in Beirut in the 1980s, the Oklahoma City bombing in 1995, the total destruction of the World Trade Centre twin Towers in New York, to the national terrorism of the Taliban Government, innocent citizens totalling millions of people, have been victims. We have entered a world of terrorism. 

Spiritually, we have always been at war with God, our neighbour and the world about us. This was the consequence of sin. We became alienated from God, separated from His promises and lost to His blessings. There are a number of Hebrew and Greek works in the Bible used to describe the terror that people may feel in their hearts when they are out of step with God. The whole human race has suffered the consequences of our terrorist mentality caused by humanity's sin.

We need to find a practical answer to those who seek asylum on our doorstep, and a spiritual answer for those who seek asylum from the wretchedness of being apart from God. Firstly we propose a six step practical program to help asylum seekers who have come to Australia from a world of terror.
  1. We oppose the extension of war into other countries. If Iran is supplying weapons to the Palestinians fighting against Israel that is a criminal act requiring the severest of sanctions. It does not mean we follow America and go to war against Iran. Bombing the life out of Iran will set back international relations by centuries. It will revive all the centuries old hatred of the Crusades. You do not get rid maggots just by swatting blowflies. You get rid of maggots by cleaning up their breeding grounds. We have to get rid of the breeding grounds of poverty and injustice. In Holy Week we remember Jesus died because of injustice. We must live to eradicate it.
  2. We adopt a new approach to asylum seekers already here. The protest marches in Australian capital cities against the Government's policy on asylum seekers last Sunday, were matched by protest marches in Scotland where Scots are against their government's policies. In Africa, large people movements across borders are commonplace. Congo has seen half a million people flee illegally into neighbouring countries. Our Pacific solution whereby poor neighbouring countries are paid to house asylum seekers while their status is decided is controversial in Australia as well as in the Pacific where the asylum seekers are better treated than native citizens. 

    The problem democratic countries have in deciding what to do with asylum seekers, is that the majority of citizens want to retain tight control on the numbers of people entering their country. Our voters said "Shut the doors". So we need a new approach. Asylum seekers fleeing persecution and poverty in poor countries can and do add to our culture, and should be given every opportunity to find safety and a future here. Working with governments we need to give priority to an education program that dispels false myths, supports the refugee and alien and welcomes the stranger. Governments alone cannot achieve a workable and sustainable asylum system. We need a national commission of eminent people from a variety of government, non-government agencies and well-managed and accountable organizations to formulate bi-lateral policy and manage the process. The commission must be apart from party politics. We would seek just decisions, reduce costs, and enable Government to meet its obligations under the 1951 Geneva Convention on the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol, to offer security and protection to applicants, while promoting inclusiveness, trust and confidence in the procedure at home.
  3. We called upon churches and community organizations to support those who because of the persecution they suffer cannot obtain a passport or a visa or cannot obtain documents that confirm their story. We call upon the Government to release women and children into the community and care of trained not-for-profit organizations who will care for and oversight them. The planned new accommodation centre in South Australia will make children highly institutionalized. Accommodation centres must be near population centres for schooling.

    Children need to attend local schools. Schooling should take place in public schools alongside other Australian children otherwise we will gain a whirlwind of institutionalized children growing to be teenagers with a grudge against society. These children have committed no crime other than to be with their parents.
  4. We can increase our immigration intake. Our annual immigration is soaring with a surge in demand for skilled places, mainly from overseas students with Australian degrees. These former students are given high priority especially in areas where we suffer a shortage of skilled labour. However we believe a booming economy can easily take more than the 12,000 places reserved for refugees and other humanitarian entrants. The first to be offered such places should be those from our detention centres in Australia, PNG and Narau.
  5. We have offered Wesley Mission to the Government to mentor newer community welfare organizations involved in resettlement. Wesley Mission would like to be invited to tender for the work. Wesley Mission was involved in directly resettling people such as the people from Vietnam in the early 1980s when Wesley Mission settled more orphan refugees than any other organization. Wesley Mission provides services, such as labour market programmes and family support, to refugees and migrants. Wesley Mission is an accredited training organization and knows how to train people. The Mission is well placed to be a mentor to newer community organizations who could care for the resettlement of asylum seekers. W are willing to serve anywhere in the nation.
  6. We should stop calling for the repatriation of the asylum seekers back to their homeland. Afghanistan is not safe for asylum seekers to return. The war is not over, fighting between rival warlords threatens to descend into a civil war, unexploded weapons still contaminate large parts of the country, half the country is inaccessible to aid organizations, the drought is entering its fourth year, and the food crisis has reached alarming proportions. Not only that but Afghanistan has half a million internally displaced people, and six million refugees in Iran and Pakistan who wish to return. The country will take decades to recover and we have an obligation to protect those citizens who have arrived here while their country is not fit for repatriation.

Secondly, as we have a practical care for political asylum seekers, we also care for Australian citizens who do not find our country a safe and secure place. Many people spiritually look for asylum from the feelings of being lost and guilt ridden. There are terrible consequences of sin, both of our alienation from God and of our relationship with others. Rejection because of sin means we are helpless and hopeless, compounded and separate from God's own people. We cannot claim our inheritance, or inhabit holy ground. We need to be at peace, to belong, to have the security that we are at home with God. Nothing we can do can save us. That is why Easter is so relevant. This was the purpose behind the Cross. That in a world of terrorism, we may find asylum! The Bible puts it simply: "You see, at just the right time, when we were still powerless, Christ died for the ungodly. Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous man, though for a good man someone might possibly dare to die. 

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: while we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Since we have now been justified by his blood, how much more shall we be saved from God's wrath through him! For if, when we were God's enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life! Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation." Romans 5:6-11

God's love in Christ came "at just the right time." We were "powerless", incapable of working any righteousness for ourselves. It is a rare thing, Paul says, to find a person ready to die for an upright man, it was for "sinners" Christ died, for men who were neither "righteous" nor "good."

The contrast is between the tremendous worth of the life laid down and the unworthiness of those who stand to benefit from it. Back of the death of Christ for sinners is the love of God: God loved; Christ died; we have been reconciled and received the reconciliation. We have not done anything to effect the reconciliation. God provided it through the death of his Son. We have been reconciled to Himself. Our future is safe and secure. "Asylum" is a safe place, secure and supportive. We all need such a place. The story of the Cross is the story of how Jesus Christ pioneered our access to heaven. We are saved by His precious blood. In a world of terror, the only hope of finding asylum for each of us, is through personal faith in the Christ of Easter.

Wesley Mission, Sydney.