In June, while travelling on a ferry from Kusadasi, Turkey, to Patmos in Greece, we passed one of the narrowest sections of the Aegean Sea between Greece and Turkey. My friend and I were reflecting on what would motivate us to attempt to swim it—as so many refugees have done—and how ‘doable’ that looked from the safety of our ferry.
The refugee crisis is something we cannot ignore without intent. Stories, video and photos have been a regular part of our TV news, social media, radio and newspapers. The problem is oceans away from our shores. Or is it?
There is a growing call for New Zealand to increase the number of refugees we take each year. For the past 30 years we have welcomed 750 people each year, with this figure set to increase to 1000 by 2018.
That might sound like a lot for a small nation like ours, until you compare figures on a per capita basis. According to Amnesty International, ‘New Zealand ranks 90th in the world per capita, and if you take our wealth into account, we drop to an embarrassing 116th in the world.’
With the General Election on the 23rd of September, our refugee quota is one of the carrots political parties are dangling in front of voters. There is some really helpful information on www.doingyourbit.co.nz about the current situation and what each political party’s refugee policy is.
I recently watched the Oscar-nominated documentary 4.1 Miles, about the Lesbos-based Greek Coastguard rescuing thousands of people from the Aegean Sea. It’s heartbreaking and incredibly moving to see the small crews head out into the choppy ocean to rescue boatloads of refugees, many containing women, children and babies. Not all make it.
It left me asking questions like: how desperate must a mother be to attempt this crossing rather than stay where she is?
Murdock Stephens from Double the Quota believes that at the heart of the debate around increasing New Zealand’s refugee intake is a big misconception. ‘The definition of a refugee isn’t based on being poor. It is based on being persecuted.’
Refugees versus poor people in New Zealand—it doesn’t have to be either/or; it can be both/and.
By accepting refugees we are not rescuing them from poverty; we are enabling them to escape persecution because of ‘race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership to a particular social group’.
The Salvation Army internationally holds the position that the ‘ability to seek asylum is a basic human right, with all people having the right to life, liberty and security of person’. As a movement, we are actively working with those who are seeking refuge, and against those who are involved in people smuggling, human trafficking and others who would seek to gain from the plight of refugees and asylum seekers.
The situations refugees are fleeing are impossible for us to comprehend from the safety of Aotearoa, but this is an issue for all New Zealanders to carefully and prayerfully consider.
Let’s not forget, Jesus was a refugee.
by Shar Davis (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 12 August July 2017, pp3
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.