Wednesday, July 31, 2013

An evening of discussion about refugees

It was my birthday yesterday. I find birthdays to be a kind of dilemma actually. It’s one of the realities of being single (if I may say so without sounding like I have taken out a violin) that there isn’t someone whose role, or choice, or pleasure, or whatever else, it is to “spoil” you on your birthday, and maybe it’s exacerbated when you live in a town where you have no family, but this means that if you want to celebrate your birthday, you have to arrange it yourself. I am a bit hopeless at this.

I thought briefly about the idea of a “party”, but I am not a big fan of shining the spotlight on myself, and because I have no family here I didn’t have a venue or anyone I felt so comfortable asking to help me do it, and it’s expensive to hire those things in this part of the world. Then there was the consideration that if I did have a real party it could become burdensome for others, because for any of my family to be there they’d need to travel from interstate and find accommodation, and the same goes for most of my oldest and closest friends, and I don’t expect people to go to those lengths for a birthday. So then the alternative was some kind of casual Facebook thing for people I do know in Sydney, but I didn’t have a huge amount of confidence that I could come up with something people would want to come to and generate much of turn out (and I know it happens to everyone who’s ever tried to organise anything using Facebook, but I can’t help finding it just a little embarrassing when you invite people to celebrate your birthday and they don’t even click yes or no), so, I gave up that idea.

But, in the middle of this dilemma I received an invitation to attend a discussion group on the subject of refugees, from Andrew Cameron at Moore Theological College. And, I thought, well, that’s perfect. I can go along and think about something bigger than my own birthday. He even said he’d provide dinner, so I didn’t have to eat takeaway at home by myself. Brilliant. So, it worked out well.

It was a fascinating evening. It was made up of an assortment of people with varying levels of involvement and experiences in dealing with refugees. The fellow in this video, a Christian who worked for the Department of Immigration (on both Christmas and Manus Island and Nauru) until he felt compromised, came along. There were others: folk who visit Villawood Detention Centre, a church minister who found himself in the deep end when 45 refugees were placed in a motel over the road from their church (they get six weeks accommodation to sort themselves out, and beyond that are on their own), others working in refugee law etc. It was a night for people to share their own experiences, not to discuss government policy at this stage.

You might, at this point, be asking what I was doing there, which would be a fair question. I went along to the Centre for Christian Living lecture on asylum seekers earlier in the year, and there was some discussion of the legal processes involved in assessing refugee status, and I didn’t get my two cents worth in during question time so I sent Andrew Cameron a message, and it went from there. Basically, during my day job, I work on a product which publishes cases from the Federal Circuit Court (formerly the Federal Magistrates Court) which is where they go on appeal from the Refugee Review Tribunal. So, my input was really about what I see of the difficulties involved once these cases make it into the judicial system (I have blogged on this once before – you can read that to see whether there really would be enough evidence to convict you should you be arrested for being a Christian). I also see cases involved in the prosecution of people smugglers. So, I took along a couple of examples last night and briefly contributed what I have come across.

Knowing and finding a way forward in the refugee issue is the real dilemma, and it will be interesting to see where we go from here.

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