World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2023

Avoiding death and danger isn’t enough to live a life that’s truly free, writes Andy Hamilton SJ to mark this year’s World Day of Migrants and Refugees. Instead, we must dismantle cruel immigration policies and stand in solidarity with those whose “great spirit and resilience” sees them building new lives in Australia.

Each year, the World Day of Migrants and Refugees invites us to pay attention to people who are in desperate need. It also allows us to notice the changes in the world that affect them. 

This year, the theme of the week is ‘Freedom to Live’. It points to signs of life amid the surrounding news of deaths and disrespect. 

The darkness is easy to see. Think of the increased number of people forced from their homes by persecution, poverty, or by the wars in Ukraine and in Africa. Think, too, of the harsh treatment everywhere of people who seek protection, including those allowed to drown in the Mediterranean, and the boat that drifted for many weeks in the sea, and the dumping of refugees on barges in England.   

In the midst of all this suffering and cruelty are also signs of hope. 

In Australia, for example, many people have been released from detention. The horrors and abuse of power in the treatment of refugees are more widely recognised. The cruelty of Temporary Protection Visas has ended, and the number of humanitarian visas has been increased. 

In Australia, too, as in the rest of the world, many people join together to support and advocate for refugees. The United Nations pleads for and provides support to many refugees throughout the world. 

Refugees require so much more of us, but what they have received from generous people is no small thing.   

The theme of Refugee Week this year, ‘Freedom to Live’, shows why refugees matter and why we should continue to accompany them and to plead their cause. If we human beings are to live and not merely to exist, to avoid being killed or allowed to die is not enough. The risk of death leads many people to flee their homes and to become refugees. As our fellow human beings, however, they deserve more than this. 

To live life fully demands the freedom to go where we please, to live with our family, to associate with friends, to start a family, to have access to education and work, and to enjoy protection under the rule of law.   

Refugees who have come to Australia have shown how great a gift they bring us when they are given the freedom to live fully. We should not be surprised by this. They needed great spirit and resilience to leave their homes and to come to Australia. It is no wonder that in their number are included people who become professors in our universities, judges in our law courts, business leaders, artists, musicians, writers, prominent sportspersons, and above all, good citizens.   

In Australia our refugee policy has shamefully focused on denying freedom to people who come to ask protection of us in order to deter other people from making such claims. Innocent people are pushed back, forced to exist in the community without support, are held in detention, or are excluded from finding a home should they have come near Australia. They face a living death.    

Respect for the freedom to live demands that we abandon that cruel policy and respect the dignity of all people who seek our protection.