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John Passant

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Refugees, the Pope and Tony Abbott: a tale of two Catholics

The ‘debate’ on refugees in Australia is plummeting deeper into the sewer of violence as both parties try to outbid each other in their threats of brutality against asylum seekers. Amid all this depressing shit a news item about Pope Francis caught my eye.

The new Pope made his first visit outside Rome on Monday. It was to the Italian island of Lampedusa. The Island is significant because it is closer to Tunisia than to Sicily. It is an entry point into Europe for refugees, mainly economic refugees, from North Africa. Many have died on the dangerous boat trip. Here is how the Irish Times puts it:

Although part of Italian national territory, Lampedusa is closer to Tunisia (113km) than to Sicily (176km) and has long been a European arrival for African economic migrants who frequently attempt the crossing in inadequate and unseaworthy boats. The Italian coast guard estimates some 20,000 migrants have died attempting the crossing in the past 20 years.

The Australian equivalent would be Christmas Island, which is closer to Indonesia than mainland Australia. According to the Department of Regional Australia, Christmas Island is ‘380 kilometres south of Java and 2650 kilometres north west of Perth. The nearest point on the Australian mainland is Northwest Cape, approximately 1565 kilometres to the south east.’

A number of asylum seekers have drowned trying to reach its shores. If they do make it, they are locked up and often then transported offshore. According to the Immigration Department ‘The Christmas Island IDC has a regular use capacity of 400 adults. Recently the contingency capacity has been increased to give a total capacity of 1 116 people.’

Over 90% of asylum seekers in Australia are ‘genuine’ refugees under the restrictive Refugee Convention (i.e. fearing persecution). I am with the Pope on this – I support anyone fleeing their homeland for a better life whatever the reason. The Pope’s choice of Lampedusa was deliberate. The Irish Times again:

When the Holy See announced the visit last week, it said the pope had been moved by the most recent of these tragedies three weeks ago, adding that the pope “intends to pray for those who have perished at sea, to visit the survivors and refugees on the island and to encourage the people of Lampedusa to appeal to the responsibility of everyone so that these brothers and sisters in extreme need may be cared for”.

This is part of the Pope’s re-positioning of the Church as the church of the poor and for the poor.

As the Opposition bays for the blood of refugees and Labor delivers a foul disgusting anti-asylum seeker policy and ramps up its anti-refugee rhetoric, I wonder if the Christian Kevin Rudd and the practising Catholic Tony Abbott got the Pope’s message of love and welcoming for all refugees.

Let’s invite Pope Francis to visit Christmas Island.

Of course none of this will have any impact because the hysteria and madness of the current debate defies logic or love. Refugees are a convenient whipping post for the politicians of the ruling class and far better to demonise them than to identify the real cause of political and economic disquiet – capitalism itself.

Like all posts on this site, comments – see the link under the heading – close after 7 days.



Comment from Barbara Williams
Time July 9, 2013 at 9:45 am

I am in support of the refugees NOT to be locked up in detention. When they are proven genuine refugees they should be released NOT to be detained in Detention or Refugee Camps. It is not right they have NOT committed any crime. Please LET REFUGEES OUT OF DETENTION.

Comment from John
Time July 9, 2013 at 11:08 am

I agree 100% Barbara. In fact I think we should bring all the refugees in the region to Australia for processing while in the community, or quick processing in Malaysia and Indonesia for granting asylum and then bringing to Australia and release into the community, with the ability to work etc. Ultimately I believe in open borders for labour just as exists for capital.

Comment from John
Time July 9, 2013 at 12:34 pm

Chek, your comment was spammed and I hit the remove rather than approve button by mistake. Yours is the third one this week I have done this to. I think I am getting old and silly. My sincere apologies.