Stories get lost in the mists of time, but today I want to recall the voyage of the St. Louis in 1939. This was a ship which was carrying Jewish refugees from Nazi Germany to, they hoped, freedom and safety in Cuba. Sadly, the refugees on the St Louis were turned away when the ship reached Cuba, and the United States and Canada refused to accept the refugees.
Where was the love?
On the ship’s return to Europe, some refugees were able to find refuge in Holland, France, the UK and Belgium. Of the 937 German Jewish refugees on the St. Louis, 709 survived while 227 were slain during World War 2. A book was published about the journey called “The Voyage of the Damned” and the whole story can be found here:
In 2011, a memorial monument called the Wheel of Conscience, was produced by the Canadian Jewish Congress. It has four inter-meshing gears each showing a word to represent factors of exclusion: antisemitism; xenophobia; racism, and hatred.
To present times: in Australia refugees and asylum seekers are being held in appalling conditions in concentration camps on Manus Island, Papua New Guinea, and on Nauru. I use the term “concentration camps” advisedly because people are not referred to by name but by number (I recalled seeing a concentration camp number tattooed on the arm of a survivor when I lived and worked in Israel in 1972) and they exist in squalid, brutal conditions.
They are told they are illegals – they aren’t. They are entitled to claim asylum when they land on Australia’s shores. They can’t claim asylum in Indonesia or Malaysia because those countries aren’t signatories to the International Convention on Refugees, Australia is. They have fled from fighting and persecution in Afghanistan, Iraq (due to wars in which the Australian government participated), Sri Lanka and now Syria. Around ninety-five per cent of asylum seekers and refugees who arrive by boat are found to be genuine in their claims.
And now the Minister for Immigration, Scott Morrison, has announced that new rules will be brought in to ensure that if people have a 50% chance of being tortured on their on their return to their home country, they will be sent back. Who determines the torture odds hasn’t been stated.
Where is the love?
Both major political parties in Australia have waged dreadful campaigns of xenophobia, racism and hatred against asylum seekers and refugees. A recent survey of public opinion found that 71% of respondents approved of the incarceration of these people on Manus Island and Nauru, and indeed wanted harsher measures. Which brings into question – because this is the majority viewpoint, does it make it right?
So again, I ask: Where is the love?
Doubtless, a great majority of Germans in World War 2, if public opinion polls had existed then, would have overwhelmingly approved of the harsh treatment of Jewish people and their incarceration in concentration camps, complete with ovens for the large-scale slaughter of Jews.
But that did not make it right then, and it does not make the inhumane treatment of refugees and asylum seekers right now.
Hatred, prejudice, xenophobia, racism, anti-semitism, hardened hearts are crimes against humanity. They have dragged Australia’s reputation as a country with an open heart and support for those willing to have a go into the mud.
So my question is again: Where is the Love?
There are, thankfully, many people and organisations in Australia who are appalled by the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees and who are working in difficult circumstances to win justice and fair treatment of those fleeing persecution and conflict.
So for them, I say They Are the Love, and this rose is dedicated to them and to those who seek asylum, safety and freedom from conflict wherever they happen to be around the world.
“Help” sung by John Farnham: