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Bishop says Minister Andrews 'has helped fuel racism' against Sudanese

Greg O'Kelly |  25 October 2007

At the conclusion of the regular African Mass in St Francis Xavier's Cathedral, Adelaide, on Sunday 9 October, Bishop Greg O’Kelly SJ, Auxiliary Bishop of Adelaide, addressed these words to the large, mainly Sudanese congregation:

My brothers and sisters from Africa, I have asked you to stay back for a while because there are some special words I wish to speak to you.

I know from what some of you have been telling me that many of you, especially the Sudanese, have been hurt by the words of Mr Andrews, the Minister for Immigration. It seems that Mr Andrews has decided to reduce the proportion of African refugees being admitted into Australia from 70% of the annual intake of refugees and asylum seekers, down to 30%. He says he has done this on the basis of stories he is hearing that recently arrived African refugees have greater difficulties than others in settling into the Australian way of life. He has mentioned bad social behaviour. Many of you here today feel insulted by these remarks because they do not apply to the great majority of the African newcomers, and you are hurt that noone seems to be speaking up for you.

In making his remarks the Minister has unwittingly but distressingly helped fuel the racism of some in our community. Some of you have been insulted in public in recent days. The police say their experience does not back up the Minister's remarks that single out the Africans as notable for bad behaviour. That must make your sense of injustice even greater.

Not so long ago Senator Vanstone as Minister for Immigration just before Mr Andrews said that Australia should be looking to the Sudan rather than some parts of Asia for people in the greatest need of resettlement. She spoke of the desperate plight of the Sudanese in Dafur and the misery of existence in the massive Kakuma refugee camp. We know that the misery is still there, so there is no justification on that account to reduce the number of African people coming to Australia. It is not right to give out generalizations as reasons, and stereotypes impose an unjust reputation on so many of you. Why talk of the bad social behaviour of some (and it is true) and not describe and give thanks and recognition for all of you who have your children in schools here, and those of you working as accredited social workers and community officers, those working hard at jobs and those studying at University in order to live the better life for which you came here and which will help you contribute even more to our Australian society. Why not mention that as well as nightclub and gang fights and dark park drinking of some? It is not right to speak in a loose way that can only smear the good name of the great majority.

There are some people from all groups who have come to this country who have not settled in well. There are individuals from Asia, the Middle East, and Europe that we have heard of who have acted in an anti-social manner in Australia, but the exceptions are not the rule and it is the same with Africa. It is to be expected that some will find difficulty in making a new beginning, because the contrast in their life experience there and here is so great. Instead of making public comments that can only fuel division and upset, especially in an election year, the Government should be looking to see how it might do more to help newcomers of refugee status to settle in to their new country. We should consider implementing more extensive introductory programmes for newcomers, explaining what the social and community expectations are in this new country, and what attitudes are right and what are wrong, and how the newcomers might help Australia with their own gifts of culture and human dignity and courage and perseverance. We should appoint special advisers or monitors for recent refugee arrivals who will have a special care for employment and education. They would help refugees get a job or get into a school, explain how to go about such things in a city or in a country town, and follow individuals and families up and keep in touch to make sure all is going well in the work place or in the school, and give support and care when they are not. That is more constructive than reacting to change immigration policy simply because of anecdotes, and when the human misery from which people are fleeing is still there, and then causing such hurt to those African people who have and are making every effort to call this land their new home.

In this Catholic community we regard you as special gifts from God to our country, people whose experience can only enrich us. Through the suffering you have endured and the violence and hunger you have known, you see the special gifts with which we have been blessed, and you can teach us and remind us to give thanks to the Lord. You bring to this land much love of family and love of God, and you rejoice in the gifts of freedom and security and human dignity that Australia can give you. I express my sorrow for the hurt you have suffered through the Minister's remarks. This country is now your home and this is your church. Thank you for coming to this land. You are God's special gifts.



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Submitted comments

Bishop O'Kelly's statement is eloquent and a delight to read. I fully endorse his comments.

Bernadette 11 October 2007

Well said Bishop, although I think you're over generous in using the word "unwittingly" about Kevin Andrews stuirring up racism.

Jim Jones 11 October 2007

Bishop O'Kelly SJ speaks as Christ would have spoken. If other Bishops in the Catholic Church spoke like Bishop O'Kelly SJ, we would have less problems.

David Jefferys 12 October 2007

Thank you Bishop O'Kelly. I wish more Australians could try and show the same tolerance, understanding and compassion in their everyday life, not just to those trying to make a new start in a far off country, but to everyone they see as different to themselves.

Alison Hanke 12 October 2007

Congratulations to Bishop Greg. I was especiallly moved by his closing words:'Thank youfor coming to this land. You are God's special gifts'.With reference to the question of ethics in the matter of immigaration, I would very much like to be informed whether or not it is possible to quantify for Australia, the numbers of immigrants whom should be admitted annually to our country in the name of ethical and moral obligations. This may be an imponderable but if a specific number could be calculated using a formula which might include, for example, our GNP, income per head of population, our life expectancy, infant mortality, living space per head of population etc then set such statistics against the same values for client countries, could some formula in justice and peace be calculated. Am I in cuckoo cloudland? Someone please tell me!

Claude Rigney 12 October 2007

Thanks,Senator Vastone. I am very delight for when passing throu' your talks concerning about the close door for sudanese refugee. Although I am not in Australia but I am very proud because of your fact.

John 31 July 2008

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