Friday, October 22, 2010

I was a stranger and you welcomed me

I have been a little dismayed in the last 24 hours listening to the angry words of Woodside residents in South Australia reacting to the Federal Government's announcement that disused military accomodation in the Adelaide Hills will be used as an on-shore assylum seeker detention and processing centre. I have been listening to the radio news, and haven't found a lot of it in the print media, but you could see here, here and here for more information.

I can understand the Woodsiders' frustration at lack of consultation. Apparently Julia Gillard was in Woodside recently, and entirely failed to mention any plans for the establishment of the centre. I can understand parents concerns that the children of the assylum seekers will be sent to the local schools. This isn't an issue of racism, but an issue about a school system already overstretched. The local community is entitled to ask about extra funding and expansion of the schools to take an additional 200 students with very special needs. And I can also understand members of the community being angry about the fact that 10 million dollars will be spent on the centre, including 24/7 medical and dental services - when similar services for the locals exist only in their dreams.

All this I can understand, and all this reflects badly on the Federal government. But I have been deeply saddened to hear, in much of the rhetoric eminating from the public meeting at Woodside, such ugly words directed against the assylum seekers themselves. I had not thought that the "stop the boats" slogans had been quite so effective. I hope that the Christian community of Woodside and their pastors will be able to lead the community in general into a more welcoming embrace of the stranger.


At Friday, October 22, 2010 9:03:00 pm , Anonymous Tony said...

There's a bit of irony here, David. As we know, many of these small communities are dying and are the first to whinge when government services are withdrawn.

In effect this could be a shot in the arm for the whole district and may help to sustain a viable community that was looking down the barrel of decline.

I'd also be cautious about the kind of coverage it is getting. The media are pre-disposed to look for the controversial angle and that can only be negative.

I think also that there's other reasons for country people to be angry -- witness the meetings about the Murray-Darling basin -- which add fuel to the fire.

Notwithstanding that, I'm sure people of goodwill still have genuine concerns and, hopefully, it is those people who will help iron them out.

The church's, especially, Dale West (from CenterCare) and Mons Cappo have made positive noises from the get-go.

My experience, for what it's worth, is that the refugees themselves will overwhelm the locals with their gratitude, their willingness to learn and their enthusiasm. Some will be traumatized of course, but I'm continually humbled by people who have had the toughest of lives on the one hand but who are generous, open, loving and hospitable, on the other.

At Friday, October 22, 2010 9:28:00 pm , Anonymous Paul G said...

PS, I'm interested to see how they handle Ben Hur as a sort of circus performance. The original movie was controversial because it had an actor playing Christ, I wonder what will be done tomorrow?

At Tuesday, October 26, 2010 10:15:00 pm , Anonymous acroamaticus said...

"Worked" in the sense of stopping the boats, Tony. Just look at the stats. Surely, you're not in favour of families risking their lives to traverse oceans in these unseaworthy vessels?

Consultation with the locals would have just been the polite thing to do, smooth the path and all that. Now it's having to be done post facto, with emotions heightened. Not smart.

And yes, I believe the people of Nauru were consulted originally, and are willing to have the facility re-opened. So, why not? Politics. Discussion over.


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