Burial at Sea


Burial at Sea

She went on the boat, the toddler Aliya,
an act of love and desperation,
beginning the middle passage of risk and fear,
from war-torn country to wealthy free nation.

They stand in a ring and pray,
the parents, the uncles, the old friends,
they squeeze tight to produce the way
for Aliya to fight through to good ends.

They thought it was better, this boat,
not crowded, not corrupted, not bad,
safely able to cross Europe’s wide moat,
Thus farewells were confident and sad.

Aliya was soon alone, pushed into the hold
of a forty-foot boat with ninety aboard,
the hull, the frame, the motor all old,
no food, no toilet, naught aboveboard.

All around the headache-making stench
of dieseline and human waste and sick,
men groan, women cry, Aliya can clench
her eyes against foul air so thick.

This the middle passage – you must know now
that migrants and crew have been jettisoned.
Peristaltic waves rock Aliya, bitter winds blow,
Motor falters, death has been commissioned.

Little Aliya is quiet. No food for three whole days,
She slips away, a pilgrim to paradise,
her middle passage a satanic maze
She comes to its end a tiny sacrifice.

It’s rough. There’s no one close to grieve.
She’s shrouded. Prayers are said. Blessing and peace
and the Prophet’s words give leave
to the little corpse as it slides beneath the seas.

While in Beirut or Bath they count their US dollars.

  • Ted Witham 2016

 

a-boatdingy-sinking-between-bodrum-and-kos
Photo courtesy Mirror.co.uk

 

Moral Leadership?


I am glad the Australian Government has finally agreed to take more refugees. But what a missed opportunity for moral leadership! The politicians were dragged to it by a community shouting our willingness to respond compassionately and sensibly to the crisis in the Middle East and Europe.

Country towns like Katanning and Albany offering to re-settle asylum seekers, and householders with spare bedrooms reaching out to integrate new people into the Australian community have put the Government to shame.

Instead of leading with compassion and with sensible plans for bringing people to this continent, the Government have played politics firstly with numbers – can we stretch to 10,000 or 20,000? – and secondly with cherry-picking those considered in greater need than others.

At this point in the crisis, both limiting numbers and having the luxury to choose between desperate people are irrelevant. Sure, we need to be practical: Australia cannot take 800,000 refugees in a year like Germany, but there is no danger of that happening. Any discrimination in favour of one group, whether it is Christians or Yazidi, will inevitably be perceived as discrimination against other groups. This morning Muslims are complaining, and rightly so, that yet again, our Government is treating Muslims as less than human.

As citizens, we should thank the Government for their willingness to consider increasing our humanitarian intake and encourage the Prime Minister to stretch his imagination to be as generous as possible. (https://www.pm.gov.au/contact-your-pm)

We should also encourage those who express generosity and offer practical help to them if we are able to provide it (Katanning Shire President: alan@katfurn.com ; Albany Mayor http://www.albany.wa.gov.au/?receiver=146&page=feedback ).

We should also look around the facilities that are ours with the same generous imagination. Is there anything we can do as individual families, churches or community groups to welcome refugees, and what action do we need to take to initiate that welcome?

Love Makes A(nother) Way


Love Makes A(nother) Way

A New Strategy in Protesting the Treatment of Asylum Seekers

For those who come across the seas,
We’ve boundless plains to share.

So we sing in our National Anthem. But it’s not Government policy. Not at all for sharing our plains, are we at the moment. I disagree with much of what the Abbott Government, with the agreement of the Labor Opposition, is implementing in refugee policy.

I think:

  • Manus Island and Nauru detention centres should be closed.
  • Processing should be done on the mainland where possible.
  • Detention times should be reduced substantially.
  • Asylum seekers should be cared for in the community where possible.
  • Asylum seekers should be able to work and contribute to Australian society.

I don’t like the language the Government uses. Asylum seekers that arrive by boat are not “illegals”. Border protection is not the issue, rather humanitarian concerns should be the main consideration.

I dream of large projects on which refugees can work, like the hydro-electric scheme in Tasmania and the Snowy River irrigation scheme in NSW after the war.

I dream that the Government could send cruise ships to Indonesia, Pakistan and the Myanmar-Thailand border where refugees gather, and bring 2,000 at a time safely to Australia, rather than have them risk their lives with people-smugglers.

My views are the views of many on the left; I hold them with passion because I am a Christian and relate them to my Christian faith.

I support the #lovemakesaway movement. Friends are being arrested. If it were physically possible, I would consider joining them. All power to their arm.

I have written to the Minister, to the Prime Minister, to my Federal Member, to the Leader of the Opposition, to the Opposition spokesman and to other politicians. Some, like Richard Marles, Nola Marino and Scott Ludlam, take the time to reply. Others have their staffers send form letters.

These are the tried and true strategies. We beg Minister Morrison to be more compassionate, to be more prepared to show that Australia wants to share its boundless plains. And the more we beg, the more punitive his policies become. The last round of legislation whipped through the Senate is stunning in the removal of human rights from asylum seekers.

 “…the more we beg, the more punitive his policies become.”

My concern is that Mr Morrison is actually responding to the Christian left. The more we beg him to be compassionate, the more he believes he has the balance right, and the more licence he has to take a  harder line. We have become a counter-weight. Our strategies may be making things worse for asylum seekers.

I wonder whether we need a new strategy to add to the sit-ins and pleas for compassion.

 

I plan to write to Minister Morrison again, and affirm him. The policy area of asylum seekers is complex across the region. He deserves credit for dealing with a toxic mix: the push factors in dangerous countries like Afghanistan; the transitions in countries like Indonesia; the people smugglers and the dangerous journeys they sponsor, and dealing with Governments in the region about all this. He does well to keep on top of all these volatile realities.

Managing thousands of vulnerable people in detention is sensitive and difficult. There are outbreaks of serious self-harm and violence, but on the whole, they run smoothly. Christmas, Manus and Nauru are remote islands with limited access to modern technology. His department keeps the detention centres under some control.

The inevitable paper-work to process thousands of asylum seekers under these conditions is handled competently. People-smugglers often force their clients to ditch their identity papers. Sourcing information about individuals in war-torn countries is a big ask, but the Department obviously succeeds regularly.

These, and other behind-the-scenes tasks, deserve credit. If we only beg for more compassion, we are heard as angry, ill-informed and obstinate.

Mr Morrison does many difficult things well. If we tell him so, he may continue the habit, and start doing other difficult things as well!