We need strong families in Australia. We need a #FairGoForFamilies.

By Fr Andy Hamilton SJ

We imagine refugees and people seeking asylum as single people. They are individuals who came on boats or arrive by plane.  That image is partly true. People whose life and safety are threatened are often forced to flee alone. But they also leave behind families, parents, children sisters and brothers behind, who like them live with wounded hearts. If we imagine ourselves in their shoes we shall readily recognise that if they are to thrive as human beings they need to be reunited with their parents, partners, siblings and children. In Australia this is very difficult: people can wait many years, and the cost is very high in terms both of money and of spirit. Yet the delay and the pain it causes largely go unnoticed.

That is why for this year, for CAPSA’s National Week of Prayer & Action, we will focus on family reunion. It is particularly appropriate for us as a Catholic organisation because the family has such a high priority in Catholic life. Families are the building blocks of the church. They are where most of us learn faith and how it is embodied in daily life. There too we learn how we should relate to one another as human beings, as Christians and as Catholics. Because we know how important strong families are in the Catholic Church, we also recognise their importance in a good society. Although governments often praise family values, they do little to protect and nurture them in a very individual society.

Because each family matters, the families of people who seek protection also matter. They suffer greatly from being separated. We can all imagine the grief of being forcibly parted from your small children or your spouse, the guilt we might feel for having left them in the hope of being reunited in a new life elsewhere, our fear felt every time we read of violence in our homeland, our shame that we are unable to bring them to Australia or to explain why we cannot do so. Such grief and frustration often lead naturally to depression. People so tormented become diminished as human beings.

When people are separated from their families the Australian community also suffers. Some people cannot work because they have no parents to care for younger siblings or for their own small children. Many ration the food they eat, skimp on medicines and clothing, work in exploitative conditions and forego social contacts in order to save and send money to their relatives overseas. This is good for the societies where their families live, but it does not contribute to the Australian economy and their self-denial may lead to future costs as their health suffers.

One of the tests of a good community is how it treats strangers. In Australia refugees are our strangers, often unseen and alone. This year we have the opportunity to think of them, and to include them in our circles of prayer and our reflection.