Refugee Week 2022: Andrew Hamilton SJ

June 2022

The theme of Refugee Week this year is healing. Refugees need healing themselves and their healing in turn depends on wider healing in the world.

To be a refugee or a person seeking asylum is to have suffered trauma. We can see it in the eyes of people who have fled from Ukraine and Afghanistan. They have suddenly lost home, lost security, lost employment, lost neighbourhood. Many have also suffered from physical and mental illness as a result of this trauma and because of harsh treatment in the nations in which they have sought protection.

Trauma results from abruptly broken connections. Healing comes from the gentle re-making of connections. For refugees it comes from hospitality, from welcome, from friendship, from assurance of food, housing and medical care, from the possibility of return to one’s home or to find a new home, from the possibility of beginning a new life. Trauma arises when we are treated as things of no value, fit only to be broken and discarded. Healing comes when we are treated as persons with a unique value, as brothers and sisters.

For refugees and people seeking asylum to find healing, they must find hospitality in the places to which they flee. Unfortunately, they often meet further trauma. Those who have come to Australia in recent years to seek protection are not seen as refugees but as criminals and are treated so. They have languished in gaols for years, have been dumped off-shore, moved around the nation like chess pieces, have been left resourceless in the community and denied the permanent protection that they need to build a new life. Like eagles pinned to the fences of ignorant farmers they have been made an example of so that their treatment might deter others.

Many other nations have been equally cruel to refugees. They have built walls and fences to keep them out, imprisoned them and put them in squalid camps for years on end. Others, such as Denmark and the United Kingdom, have even followed the deplorable Australian example of offshore transfer and processing.

If refugees are to find healing in such a world, it also needs healing. Our own nation must recognise refugees as human beings like ourselves, as brothers and sisters, as people who have much to offer to our society. For that to happen attitudes that are sick need to be healed.

In Australia the soil in which a better response to refugees will grow needs careful tending. Plants do not grow if sown in stone.  We need to hoe and fertilise the ground through compassion and conversation.

We can do that by coming to know refugees and sharing their life stories with our friends, by questioning the sad and politically motivated arguments for locking them up and removing from them access to the law. We can write to our politicians to demand a better policy and support candidates who advocate for refugees.  

If we do these things we can be part of the healing for refugees and for our society. We can build hope that the hearts and minds of our people will change and that eventually the world will move to prevent the making of refugees and to care for people who need protection. Like all world celebrations, Refugee Week begins at home.

Andrew Hamilton SJ is consulting editor of Eureka Street, and writer at Jesuit Social Services.