Students honour the lives of asylum seekers in moving Social Justice Statement water’s edge ceremony

IMG_1761Hundreds of students gathered today at the water’s edge in Docklands, Melbourne where Bishop Vincent Long honoured the lives and mourned the deaths of people seeking refuge in Australia. Bishop Long reflected on his arrival into Australia as a Vietnamese asylum seeker decades ago; “This water reminds me of my own journey as a refugee – I arrived by boat not far from here in  Port Melbourne 35 years ago.”

The event welcomed the 2015-16 Australian Bishops Social Justice Statement, “For those who’ve come across the seas: Justice for refugees and asylum seekers.”  Bishop Long was joined on stage by students from across Victoria who offered prayers and reflections for the people fleeing persecution.

Both Bishop Long and Sr Brigid Arthur (who provided a reflection and critique of Manus Island and Nauru) welcomed the Australian government’s recent announcement of an increased intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees.  But Sr Brigid also alerted students to current anomalies that meant that one group of Syrian refugees will arrive and receive full settlement support while others currently living in the Australian community and in offshore detention  have no certainty about their future or any prospect of permanent protection in Australia. Sr Brigid challenged students to speak up for all people seeking asylum including approximately 2,000 people who are living in offshore detention. “Regardless of the politics that has gone on previously, we need to close these camps.” Sr Brigid urged.

In a moving tribute, students surrounded Bishop Long in silence and then in quiet prayer as he released a wreath into the water in memory of those lives lost at sea.

One group of students who attended were year six house captains from Antonine College. Their teacher Abraham said “These students really understand as many have Syrian friends and relatives, this is a good way to keep the conversation going at school. After all it is these students who will make a difference in the future.”  The Antonine students carried the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum banner to the water’s edge for the laying of the wreath.

The event was organised by Mark Clarke, Office for Justice and Peace, Melbourne.