Tag Archives: refugees

Dancing with Speeches #24 Princess Elizabeth

This weekend Australia celebrates the British monarch and her reign as sovereign is always disappointing to me who long for Australia to be a republic. Her first public speech was made when she was 14, over the radio and with her sister to give comfort to other young people and children who were being removed from their homes becoming refugees and offering good luck during their time of separation from their families.

The crackle of the crystals warming up before the voices of young women wishing well and reminding peers the future belongs to them, when peace comes, remember it will be for us, the children of today, to make the world of tomorrow a better and happier place. She invited all the children to bear their share too of the danger and sadness of war. So many children bear more than their share – their toll is greatest, their future taken away through the aftermath of conflict. The wars go on long after soldiers have left. Their fathers go home with post-traumatic stress and their mental health condition may well lead to more violence to self and their loved ones. The land is no longer fertile, harvesting only toxins in the soil left from the herbicides and residue of weapons and mines in the ground maybe lasting for aeons. DNA maybe damaged passing on genetic disorders to generation after generation. Locked in detention, robbed of their childhood, children bare more than their share of war.

The voice of the child so clear and powerful, the young princess Elizabeth was heard by her peers as well as adults. The power and place of public media the platform to be heard. More recently in our time that very same public media, the BBC found a way for another young woman’s voice to be heard, this time it was firstly anonymous and via a blog. A BBC journalist looked for a young person who could write safely about their life with the Taliban. A school and its teacher were approached and the child who first wrote under the pseudonym Gul Makai (means Cornflower, after a character from Pashtun folklore). Her first blog entry was published on 3 January 2009, it was from hand-write notes passed on to a reporter scanned and e-mailed – no doubt a series of crackles along the way to get them to publication. We all know her now as the Nobel Laureate Malala. The role of the BBC to bring a children’s voice to the masses is a triumph. The little voice is powerful in its vulnerability and unmediated honesty and desire for peace.

When the word isn’t possible, a visual image may well be even more powerful. Over three successive years, children’s art has come to the fore from detention centres where those seeking asylum have been placed by Australian authorities. More than a dozen of these pictures found their way into the Australian Human Rights Commission report released in 2015. They are evocative and compelling, and while in a publicly commissioned document, The Forgotten Children’s report’s drawings didn’t have wide spread coverage in public and commercial media – they were there but a wide audience wasn’t reached. The images too confronting and more powerful than words perhaps the reason for their modest presence in the public domain. By the middle of 2013, children seeking asylum in Australian detention centres nudged the 2,000 mark. This number has steadily declined since with the support of changing public policy, practice and tireless advocacy. The report commissioned and undertaken by the President of the Australian Human Rights Commission Gillian Triggs spearheaded the demand for the children to have their rights to seek asylum from persecution and was has been the Australian way in previous generations. Sadly children once from families given that privilege had not extended it to the next generation.

What would happen if we touched into our inner child, too feel and connect, as child to child, just as Elizabeth and her sister Margaret Rose did? Would that open our hearts a little wider, let a little more compassion seep out, embed a memory to build a future of peace and justice? Elizabeth celebrated her 90th birthday this year, she was able to hark back to her childhood in her Christmas message last year and brought the images of Syrian refugees and the reminder of her England as child together, reminding viewers of her Christian refugee story of Jesus and his family fleeing persecution and a certain death of the boy child if they did not escape the oppressors occupying their homeland.

Take a breath, in this dance of past and present. Remember yourself as a child, what would you want for yourself and for other children? A place to be safe, a place to play and a place to grow up in peace, free from persecution and war – would you refuse your inner child that right? Or the next generation’s their rights?

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Dancing with Speeches #21 Nelson Mandela

In 1994 Nelson Mandela stood in front of his nation in Cape Town and delivered his first speech as President of the Republic of South Africa. From this platform he looked over Table Bay and could see Robben Island where he had been imprisoned and he talked about democracy founded on the majority principle.

We speak as fellow citizens to heal the wounds of the past with the intent of constructing a new order based on justice for all.

Rising up to rise others up along the way, to unify a nation divide, to set prisoners free, to invest in democracy as the primary tool of liberation from division and hatred is noble. It is a quest that starts with resistance, that experiences repression, violence, imprisonment, often creating with martyrs sacrificed along the way leads to building a movement that has a life of its own.  Finding a way home to justice and equity where those previously disenfranchised are restored, made whole and opportunities appear not as a privilege but a right, requires a collective consciousness but more importantly a collective compassion to transcend old wounds to bring spectacular healing powers to policy and programs, to hearts and minds.

As South Africa transitioned to democracy, unfurled a new flag they embedded an old song ‘Nkosi Sikelel’ iAfrika‘ into the national anthem. It was composed in 1897 as a hymn with lyrics from the five most widely spoken of South Africa‘s eleven official languages – Xhosa (first stanza, first two lines), Zulu (first stanza, last two lines), Sesotho (second stanza), Afrikaans (third stanza), and English (final stanza).  The hymn, a promise, a prayer  is a call to action, a call to be blessed.  The blessing: to be saved from war and suffering, and to hear the crags echoing the landscape. Surely these are the blessings that come when we turn our attention to the highest forms of democracy? How do we hear from the crags, those rugged outcrops among the cliffs? The wail of the wind, the natural power of the flowers pushing through to bloom, the migratory birds nesting from predators, are these not the blessings from the refuges created by the crags?  Or are they places of exile, holding the freedom fighters till they can come down to the plain?  The land and the sea are both blessing and blessed.

Constructing an order where justice is the foundation was the challenge of South Africa and having their first democratic elections in 1994 to elect Mandela was hard fought and looking out over Robben Island on his inauguration day was great staging. There is always imprisonment before liberation, captives need to be set free.  Being locked up internally before the blessed release of forgiveness is true for us as individuals as it is for a nation.

As my country prepares for another national election, our own Robben Island where we detain those seeking freedom from persecution is invisible from our coastline. Manus and Nauru are a long way off our shores.  The freedom fighters of South Africa looked to their own people for a solution and found a political one through the African National Congress and a world wide wave of disapproval to apartheid that eventually brought democracy.  The clumsy efforts of our world to bring democracy to war torn lands creating a refugee movement unprecedented for more than two generations means people are finding their way to far flung places like Australia and yet we are not fully embracing that offering asylum could be part of our contribution to bring democracy too. Who knows ?  We may well be incubating a future Nelson Mandela for Syria, Sudan, Sri Lanka from in the safety of our land.

The journey to freedom Mandela took throughout his life, is not so different to those who seek asylum. Refugees are exiles and the anguish they have being estranged from their homeland, the fear of being returned, the lack of protection offered. He too was exiled, estranged and hidden from view. I will leave it to one of South Africa’s poet laureate’s to remind us to make a bonfire to the maps that no longer serve us and to give dignity to each person.  Without dignity the citizen experience cannot emerge and democracy is compromised.

If destroying all the maps known
would erase all the boundaries
from the face of this earth
I would say let us
make a bonfire
to reclaim and sing
the human person

Refugee is an ominous load
even for a child to carry
for some children
words like home
could not carry any possible meaning
but
displaced
border
refugee
must carry dimensions of brutality and terror
past the most hideous nightmare
anyone could experience or imagine

Empty their young eyes
deprived of a vision of any future
they should have been entitled to
since they did not choose to be born
where and when they were
Empty their young bellies
extended and rounded by malnutrition
and growling like the well-fed dogs of some
with pretensions to concerns about human rights
violations

Can you see them now
stumble from nowhere
to no
where
between
nothing
and
nothing

Consider
the premature daily death of their young dreams
what staggering memories frighten and abort
the hope that should have been
an indelible inscription in their young eyes

Perhaps
I should just borrow
the rememberer’s voice again
while I can and say:
to have a home is not a favour.

Dancing with Speeches #16 Ben Chifley

Ben Chifley’s Light on the Hill speech is so simple and really just says the success of the Labor Party on polling day is entirely on the party’s capacity to serve the people who work and a recognition that it is a political expression of the labour movement: “If the movement can make someone more comfortable, give to some father or mother a greater feeling of security for their children, a feeling that if a depression comes there will be work, that the government is striving its hardest to do its best, then the Labor movement will be completely justified.”

Labour movements around the world need to innovate and organize in new ways, as the economy changes and the capacity to work in new ways with no boundaries in time and space. Joining with other movements like environmental justice, peace, anti-nuclear, human rights, women; the labour movement walks in solidarity and at times fuses and brings strengths to create a single strand of human action for equity and justice. These movements join together on line and have the capacity to create a digital tsunami. The voices on line, matched with feet on the streets can make a difference and highlight what needs to be factored in when you go to the ballot box.

It is no longer enough to be concerned for those who have a job or want to have a job. The labour movement needs to speak up for both the light and the hill. The hill needs to be protected from mining magnates who disrespect traditional owners, the hill needs to be protected from shareholders who will vote in immoral wages for CEOs, the hill needs to be protected for future generations so they can enjoy the oxygen the trees not felled will provide and keep temperatures down. The light needs to be solar power, offered at an affordable price and use to connect to other energy sources. The light needs to shine in the cold and murky places and not just to be on the hill; to bring transparency, make invisible decisions visible and glow in the dark when fear and terror are being traded.

Chifley’s light on the hill has deep biblical roots and reminds me of the duty statement of the Christian to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. To change hearts and minds and behavior is to engage those who are comfortable to understand and therefore change their response to those needing comfort. We all know what it is like to feel uncomfortable. There is the restlessness and moving on and off our spot, a queasy feeling in the stomach, a look of embarrassment, a furrowed brow of anxiety – all signs we are not at peace with ourselves and there is some kind of adjustment needing to be made to become more aligned. Gnawing away at the spirit and values to be challenged to bring justice requires a consistent effort over time.   For instance, Wilberforce spent a lifetime as a legislator working to abolish slavery across the British Empire and lived three more days after legislation was finally passed. He campaigned and gradually dismantled the scaffold holding slavery in place, he created a movement and a partnership with a wide base of supporters. Those making their fortunes out of the slave trade were his enemies and they had friends in the parliaments. He had a great partner in his mission with Thomas Clarkson and together they were able to help the comfortable feel uncomfortable. In our time and place there are plenty of rights to be wronged, places where light needs to be shone for justice and also places where are best selves need to rise to the occasion so an entire movement can be a light on the hill for our nation. The plight of the 28,000 people here in Australia in limbo, having arrived seeking asylum and now waiting in no-mans land without any confirmation about their future – surely we could just offer an amnesty? We’ve done it before in our history (remember Tiananmen Square and the Chinese university students, remember the Vietnamese boat people?). To say nothing of the horror of what is being done in our name on Manus and Nauru!

Movements begin, like the light, with a spark and as we know it only takes a spark to get a bushfire going … let’s climb to the top of our hill and light the candle we need to light to bring justice and feelings of discomfort to open the hearts of those who can make Australia a sanctuary, a welcoming place and deliver ourselves as a light on the hill.

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Justice or Just Us?

Dear Sor Juana,

Another week of refugee horror in graphic images shared around the world and our humanity is being tested by a three olds body washed up on the shores of Turkey. Where being silent and speechless might be the most appropriate response, words are flying around the parliaments and press clubs, talk back radio and online. The prophetic voice – the one who speaks their truth to power – can be heard loudly in the silence of the stillness of a tiny body on the sand. The rescue worker who gently reclaimed the child from the sea as poignant as any pieta.

The currency of fear rises in stock value more quickly it seems than the numbers of people fleeing their homeland. From the depths of this ocean of fear and loss, we have innocence and trust to reclaim. I am reminded of the old adage: Justice or Just Us.

The space on the page is the silence to reflect.

I am heading off to Roy’s Retreat Prophet School today at the Welcome Centre to consider my response, my little snowflake to add to the branch which surely must fall from the weight of all the snowflakes of effort to turn the tide.

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Restoration and Refugees

The steps to the Cathedral in the city are made of slate from the village where I live. At the moment the Cathedral is under renovation. Francis is blowing a gale through the Vatican and all the restoration on the Cathedral will repair the damage done. The chair of this Bishop of Rome is made of something less brittle than slate. It’s a kind of leadership that many have been yearning for, a hark back to the founder of the firm, not an echo from the silence of stone in the empty chambers where pilgrims once filled the pews. Like so many of our institutions, the church is renovating and restoring, and that is not the answer to whatever question they think they are asking. Now is the time to stop conserving heritage listed spaces in our hearts and break open in true Eucharistic fashion the body and blood and spill it onto all the spaces empty of body and soul.   And heaven knows there are so many of those.

The tragedy of people displaced by war, persecution, natural disasters is alarming. In my country the borders of the land are almost as impenetrable as our hearts. Fear and compassion traded blows in the streets of Melbourne yesterday. (I did wonder if anyone from Francis’ team was there – I am sure there would have been a few.) As a young mum I campaigned in the 80s and then into the 90s on issues of refugees and racism. For my efforts, our house was attacked with bricks through the windows of our sleeping children’s home, graffiti on the outside walls of the house, tyres on our car damaged and public vilification and intimidation by a right wing terrorist group. Our phone was tapped and from time to time I am pretty sure I was followed. Acting in solidarity has a price. My efforts were very modest, writing, producing materials and building a community of activists to spread the word in their workplaces, churches, schools and families. I didn’t organise any big rallies and it was long before social media so no flash mob protests were visible. I was under the protection of the Council of Churches and I felt protected by their care for me and for my family. This is the work of communion.

The UN says we have reached 60M people displaced for the first time in history. When I was campaigning it was 15M – the last time it was even close to the number we have now was during the Second World War.

Disrupting traffic is not enough, thoughts and behaviours need to be disrupted. The slate on the Cathedral steps are baying for a new dawn of whole heartedness. My own efforts are almost invisible these days.  I am shaken not stirred by the deaths in Austria in the back of a van, the scenes of children on their parents shoulders at the borders of Greece, the broken bones floating in the seas of the Mediterranean and off our Australian coast …. And the list goes on …

Blessed are you who have a home

               For you shall be invited to open your doors

Blessed are you who have food

               For you shall add another seat to your table

Blessed are you who are safe

                For you shall share your haven

Blessed are you who are leaders

                For you shall serve

Blessed are you who know how to speak to power

               For you shall speak for the powerless

Blessed are you who are fearless

              For you shall give courage to others.