Thursday, October 11, 2007

Welcoming the Stranger

The announcement that the Government will cut the Sudanese refugee intake this year has precipitated a storm of protest and counter-protest. This has got me thinking about the Government's rights (and responsibilities) in this vexed area.

On one hand, we have those who draw on the scriptural admonition to welcome the stranger in our midst. On the other, we have those who argue that "we should determine who comes here".

The contest is not a simple one between a scriptural and a worldly principle. Those who argue that we should control our immigration also have scriptural support, especially St Paul's acknowledgement of the legitimacy of the use of the "sword" by the state. This includes border control. The authority of the state is ordained by God, and what exists legitimately can be exercised legitimately.

Of course, it can also be exercised illegitimately. I would place the Pacific Solution in this category. Other means to control people smuggling should have been used. But there is nothing inherently wrong with the Government varying the refugee intake according to Australia's capacity to integrate new arrivals. The strain that is placed on existing communities is a legitimate state concern, and this cannot always be addressed with extra financial resources. This is not prima facie evidence of racism.

I am not offering an analysis here, but I do think that the whole scriptural and traditional resource of the Church should be brought to bear on the issue, not just single proof-texts. It is too simple to insist only that we have a duty of hospitality - those with secular authority have other issues to consider as well, and have the responsibility to do so.

So is Kevin Andrews a racist? I don't have a clue. But I have one question for him. Why was this particular change to the refugee intake announced so publicly, when others have not been? And why now? Even if a policy is legitimate, the announcement may have had other purposes. I hope it did not.


Victoria said...

What do you think should have been done to control the flood of illegal immigrants - the Pacific Solution?

Athanasius said...

I think that the Government should have use all legal means to disrupt the people-smuggling rings in Indonesia, in cooperation with the Indonesian Government.

I fully recognise that this may have been less effective than shipping illegal immigrants to Nauru for processing, but this does not convince me, for two reasons.

First, the vast majority of those so treated were ultimately found to be genuine refugees. Second, I am not a consequentialist, and I do not think the end justifies the means, even if the end if very attractive.