November 19 - World Day of the Poor
Cecily McNeill |
29 November 2017
Pope Francis has designated November 19 as World Day of the Poor. This focus echoes throughout Australia and the Pacific for there are few poorer in this region that those refugees and asylum seekers on Manus Island, where essential services were switched off at the end of last month.
“Tragically, in our own time, even as ostentatious wealth accumulates in the hands of the privileged few, often in connection with illegal activities and the appalling exploitation of human dignity, there is a scandalous growth of poverty in broad sectors of society throughout our world,” the Pope says in his statement for the day.
The prisoners on Manus Island have been thrown on the mercy of a hostile host country – Human Rights Watch recently detailed an upsurge in violent attacks on refugees and asylum seekers by groups of armed locals. This cutting loose of those who originally sought asylum in Australia has earned the Australian government widespread opprobrium.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees representative says the new centre at Lorengau in Papua New Guinea is still undergoing major earthworks and is not ready for habitation. Nat Jit Lam told the Guardian he would not be taking any refugees there. His statement is backed by Amnesty International and Australian Greens senator Nick McKim.
Senator McKim says the new centre is also short of about 150 beds, “So even if all the guys came out today (November 1) there would be 150-plus of them who would be left on the side of the road in Lorengau, where there have been brutal attacks.”
From inside the detention centre, Aziz Adam [told] https://www.theguardian.com/australia-news/2017/nov/01/manus-island-un-says-new-accommodation-not-ready-for-refugees the Guardian the men had woken on Wednesday morning in fear of what might happen. “There is no water, power and food. Even the toilets do not work. People are stressful and anxious. Any time we expect the navy might come in.”
We are told the men have been protesting peacefully for the past three months. Australia has been criticised most recently in a BBC [report] http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-28189608 (October 31) which concludes Australia’s “hard line on immigration is unlikely to change”.
When Canberra introduced “Operation Sovereign Borders” in 2013, its reasoning was that its military patrols which returned asylum seekers to Indonesia (though they are mostly from Afghanistan and Pakistan, Iran and Iraq), were restoring the integrity of its borders and helping to prevent deaths at sea. But critics say the policy is racially motivated.
What can we as Australian citizens do in the face of such a tough approach to people legitimately seeking asylum from persecution in Indonesia or elsewhere? Pope Francis calls in Laudato Si’ for an integrated approach to care for our common home with care for the poor.
“Many professionals, opinion makers, communications media and centers of power … are far removed from the poor, with little direct contact with their problems. They live and reason from the comfortable position of a high level of development and a quality of life well beyond the reach of the majority of the world’s population” LS #49.
Pope Francis speaks of a “numbness of conscience and to tendentious analyses which neglect parts of reality”.
How can we sharpen our consciences and get alongside the plight of refugees on Manus Island and in general? How can we find out more about why the asylum seekers are fleeing. Who can we talk to about this issue so as to start a conversation to build awareness of the issue?