Respect asylum seekers
Next Wednesday is World Refugee Day and the Jewish Religious Action and Advocacy Centre has a message for the Australian Federal Government…and a word for the Israeli Government too.
As the world joins together to observe World Refugee Day on 20th June 2012, the Jewish Religious Action and Advocacy Centre (JRAAC) reflects on the plight of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia, Israel and around the world. The global growth in the number of people seeking asylum from the situation in their own country is an unfortunate, but unavoidable, part of today’s world. The challenge facing those countries that are destinations for asylum seekers is to respond in a manner that protects their sovereignty whilst ensuring the humane treatment of applicants seeking protection.
For 2000 years, the Jewish people have faced the challenge of being strangers in lands not our own. As is often noted, the Torah has more to say about the proper treatment of strangers than it does with any other set of laws, including worshipping God or observing festivals. Exodus 23:9 states: “You shall not oppress a stranger, for you know the feelings of the stranger, having yourselves been strangers in the land of Egypt.”
JRAAC publicly recognises the plight of persons seeking asylum and calls on the governments of all countries to treat these people with dignity, respect and compassion. According to the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, countries have an obligation to promote and protect human rights. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights (1948) states: “Everyone has the right to seek and to enjoy in other countries asylum from persecution” [Article 14]. We ask governments to remember the human cost of war and the humanity of those caught in this difficult situation. People who are being persecuted and whose lives are in danger are entitled to protection under international law.
JRAAC calls on the Australian government to treat asylum seekers arriving within Australian territory with respect and compassion at all times. It is our belief that asylum seekers not be sent to a country that is not a signatory to the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. While applications are being processed, unless there is pressing evidence to the contrary, the asylum seeker should be released into the community and provided with language and life skills that will benefit them regardless of the outcome of their application. The time spent in the community should include education about the values of democracy, ethics and fairness that are the hallmarks of Australian society. Applicants for asylum should be provided with resources adequate for them to live with dignity and in safety while their application is processed and considered (along with the applications of those who have lawfully sought entry to Australia). Those people felt to require detention should be the top priority for the processing authorities and their applications should be dealt with in a speedy and efficient manner. JRAAC urges the Australian government to implement an asylum seeker policy that is based on fairness and compassion and that reflects the values of Australian society.
JRAAC also calls on the Government of Israel to meet its international obligation to determine refugee status to those fleeing persecution. Specifically we refer to the large migrant population who have fled Sub-Saharan Africa and are currently living in Israel. Many of these people have not yet been granted refugee status but instead are granted temporary protection status, providing them with no certainty for their future and leaving many living in fear of returning to the war-torn countries from which they came. JRAAC acknowledges that Israel was instrumental in drafting the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees as a response to the persecution of European Jewry during the Holocaust. Therefore we call on the Israeli government to move more swiftly in providing these same protections to refugees living in Israel today.
In addition, JRAAC feels compelled to bring attention to the recent hateful comments and actions that have been directed against Israel’s asylum seeker community. Interior Minister Eli Yishai was attributed comments stating that they should all be imprisoned and deported. These and other hateful comments have incited violent protests in Tel Aviv that have resulted in looting, rioting and assault as well as arson attacks on asylum seekers’ homes and businesses. JRAAC condemns, in the strongest possible terms, the hateful comments by community leaders and the violent behaviour that has followed. We are ashamed that such intolerance could occur in a Jewish state and denounce wholeheartedly xenophobia in all its forms.
The Torah states “(God) upholds the cause of the fatherless and the widow, and befriends the stranger, providing food and clothing.” Therefore we are taught “You too must befriend the stranger, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt.” (Deuteronomy 10:18-19).
The UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees recognises the rights of persons to seek asylum from persecution. In line with the values of Judaism we urge governments and citizens in Australia, in Israel and across the globe to treat asylum seekers and refugees compassionately and with respect.