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James Standish is the director of Public Affairs and Religious Liberty of the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific. He has written two articles on the deplorable conditions in an Australian internment camp located on an island near Papua New Guinea which we are re-posting with permission.
By James Standish –
A few years ago when I was working in Washington, DC, the American Jewish Committee took me on study tour of Israel. What I found most confronting during the trip was not the wall, the tensions, or even being presented with a Hamas rocket casing shot from Gaza. The most confronting part of the trip had to do with my own homeland: Australia.
During a visit to Jerusalem’s Yad Vashem (Holocaust Museum), I came across a display on the build up to the Holocaust; the period when European Jews could see the writing on the wall and were desperately attempting to escape the Nazis. To say the free world was indifferent to their plight is an understatement. A ship with 937 German Jews attempted to land in Florida, but the US Coast Guard chased them off shore. Eventually, unable to land, the boat returned to Europe where most of those on board perished in the Holocaust.
But the US was not the only nation turning away desperate Jews. At an international conference in 1938, the Australian Minister for Trade and Customs, T W White, explained his government’s insistence on retaining strict limits on Jewish asylum seekers with words that are now emblazoned in large letters on the wall at Yad Vashem:
“[W]e have no real racial problem, we are not desirous of importing one . . .”
Fast-forward 55 years and Australian author Thomas Kaneally’s book is made into Steven Spielberg’s Oscar winning masterpiece Schindler’s List. And Australians, like people all over the world, flock to the see the film, handkerchiefs in hand. But while Schindler saved around a thousand Jews destined for Hitler’s ovens, what remains unacknowledged is that Australia could have saved tens of thousands by simply allowing Jews a refuge in their hour of greatest need.
Of course, if a second Holocaust was to occur today, we would be a nation of Schindlers, not a nation of T W Whites. Or would we?
Today Australia faces a moral question for our age. This time it isn’t desperate European Jews searching for a sanctuary, it is desperate Iranians fleeing one of the world’s most repressive regimes. It is Iraqi Christians who have been murdered, bombed and beaten unmercifully since the invasion that we were a part of. It is shell-shocked Syrians caught between a despotic ruler on one side and jihadists on the other.
In the face of the most persecuted people on earth coming to our shores, Australia’s two major parties are vying to see who can be the most callous. They are acting so brutally because they believe we, the electorate, want them to. Hence, every Australian has an opportunity. If we communicate clearly and unambiguously that we want a nation that is compassionate, a nation that is generous, a nation that rejects the bullying policies of our two major parties, there is a chance this terrible stain on our national character can be removed.
Today every one of us can be Schindler. Simply look up your local MP and send a note letting him or her know that you do not want brutality perpetrated in your name. I hope you’ll join me in making a stand.
In 55 years, I hope my children will remember that in this hour of desperate need, their father was on the side of Schindler, not on the side of T W White.
Where is Manus Island?
If you were shown a map of the world, could you find Manus Island? If you would be a little bewildered, don’t be ashamed. No one I’ve asked has been able to come close to where it is (other than those who have been to Papua New Guinea-keep reading and you’ll find out). But maybe even more importantly, do you know what the Australian Government is doing on Manus?
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Once again, the chances are very small you do. And that’s not a coincidence.
While traveling in Papua New Guinea this month, I met a PNG national who works in the Australian asylum detention camp on Manus Island (the camp is actually on Los Negros Island, which is joined by a bridge to Manus). He began by telling me that all those working at the camp are forced by the Australians running it to sign a document promising not to talk about what goes on there. To date, the Australian Government has not let a single journalist into the internment camp. This is, of course, a very bad sign. What is it that the Australian Government doesn’t want the world to know about? A lot, it turns out.
The camp worker who sat next to me on an internal flight went on to confide that conditions in the Australian internment camp are deplorable; the asylum seekers are treated in an extremely disrespectful manner, and they are living in dreadful conditions. There is a lot of malaria on the island, it is crushingly hot but they are left in oven-like tents. Although there are saltwater crocodiles in the vicinity, desperate asylum seekers have tried to flee, only to be hunted down by the Australians and dragged back to the internment camp. He shook his head and said, “It is hard to believe people’s human rights can be taken away like this.”
As of last night, we don’t only need to rely on the testimony of a camp worker whose name I can’t reveal. A very brave Australian named Rod St George, who was the compliance officer at the detention camp, came forward and described the atrocious conditions being perpetrated in the name of the Australian people.
He reports heinous crimes ranging from rape to torture against detainees are not being prevented. Further, he states conditions in the camp are so bad, it is not fit to “serve as a dog kennel”. His short interview is something that every Australian should view before deciding whether or not to support the extremely harsh policies of both major political parties (click here to watch the interview).
So, where is Manus Island? It is at the very top of PNG, just a few degrees south of the equator. Why not take a minute to “Google Map” it, and think about the lives of people currently being held there. Is that the way Christ would want us to treat people in desperate need?