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‘Any one of us can become a refugee any day’

The Palm Sunday peace rally took place on March 24. Around two thousand people met at Belmore Park before marching to Victoria Park in Camperdown. The annual event offers a platform to respond to global catastrophes. Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, now in its third year, has caused huge loss of life, destruction of property and generated 14 million displaced people. It is eclipsed by the war in Gaza. 

The Albanese government has provided 13,000 Temporary Protection Visas and Safe Haven Enterprise Visas but continues to leave over 10,000 more on Bridging Visas in long-term limbo and continues to abandon 52 refugees who remain stuck in PNG with little prospect of resettlement, left with no financial support and now in a very precarious situation. The government has recently sent 11 asylum seekers to Nauru, where the detention camp had been empty since June last year.

According to rally organisers, including Pax Christi Australia, the government must be convinced to support a vision for peace, rather than stoking the fires for war, including the AUKUS preparations for war with China. In the meantime, the government must take refugees fleeing Palestine, Ukraine, Afghanistan and other war zones, as well as stop persecuting those here already who are denied protection.

Speakers included Thamilselvan Selvakumar, a Tamil Asylum Seeker on a Bridging Visa; Susan Connelly, a Sister of St Joseph; Craig Foster, Refugee Advocate, Australian Republican Movement; Shaye Candish, General Secretary, NSW Nurses & Midwives Association; and Reem Borrows, a Palestinian advocate and member of the Arab Council Australia.

Ms Borrows said: “Less than 48 hours ago, my family and I were thrown into a whirlwind of fear and uncertainty when we had to rush our son into the emergency room. The medical staff in emergency didn’t hesitate for a moment. As soon as they saw him, they prioritised him because his pain levels were so excruciating they knew something was drastically wrong. 

“They never once asked us, where are you from? What’s your religious background? Who are you? What do you believe in? All they did was immediately triage him and send him into immediate care inside the hospital. At this point in time, I couldn’t help but reflect on the millions of parents and children in Gaza who are denied such basic human rights. If my son was in Gaza today, he may not have made it through.

“The atrocities unfolding in Gaza have weighed heavily on our hearts. It’s agonising to watch innocent lives torn apart by such extreme and inhumane violence. This is pure darkness that we are experiencing. How can we, as a global community, turn a blind eye to this suffering? How can we justify denying them the same quality of life that we here in Australia take for granted? 

“One antibiotic IV dose can save a human life. And we have to ask, how can we as a community treat those who are leaving and seeking safety in Australia? How are they merely treated as numbers? How are all the refugees arriving here in Australia only treated as numbers? What if it was you or I? Because let me tell you, from my experience, any one of us can become a refugee any day.

“On this Palm Sunday, and as the global Christian community readies for Easter, we Christian Palestinians find ourselves wondering why so few of our fellow Christians are using their voices to leverage collective influence to advocate for peace and justice in the Holy Land. There’s a real disconnect that we have here with the global Christian community. 

“Holy Week is a time of profound significance for Christians, with its emphasis on repentance, renewal of compassion and hope. But even as we prepare to commemorate the redemptive suffering of Jesus Christ here in Australia, we have to confront the ongoing tragedy unfolding in Palestine where our brothers and sisters endure unspeakable suffering of their own.

“My mind returns again and again to Jesus’ cry on the cross. He said, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Do these words not echo the cries of Palestinians as they face ground assaults, aerial bombardments, famine and sickness on every side? Only yesterday, we heard of another hospital attack where everyone was warned to leave. Yet when a doctor refused to leave, he was shot dead point-blank.

“As I watched the team cater for our son for his every need, I couldn’t help but think, what if this was happening here in Australia? What if it was the RPA hospital? As Palestinian Christians, descendants of the world’s first Christians, let me remind the world this. It pains us deeply to watch this escalating violence and humanitarian crisis in our homeland. Everything has been severed, and to add salt to the wound, even those who have been able to flee have experienced visa cancellation en route to safety with no prior warning. How can that be?

“Why do I have to stand here and say, please hear us as Christians? We are human beings. All of a sudden it feels like it’s very tokenistic for me that I have to say, ‘I am a Palestinian Christian. Hear me.’ We don’t differentiate. Where I come from in the Holy Land, we do not differentiate between the Muslim, Christian and Jew, because Judaism, Islam, and Christianity are part of our DNA. We pray together and we mourn together and we celebrate together and we eat together.

“People seem to be so scared of that. Why? If only you knew what the word Islam means. All it means is to surrender. If we have truth faith, we have all surrendered to God. As we rejoice in the promise of redemption, we have to ask ourselves a number of questions, and we have to also be able to demand an immediate, unconditional and permanent ceasefire as a first step. Because let’s not forget, in 1946 the international community recognised that genocide was a criminal act. After World War II, the global community said, never again. Never again must mean never again for everyone. It’s not one right over another.

“Yet here we are again, and I’ll repeat this. We are witnessing the second Holocaust in the Holy Land targeting Palestinians, no less. 

“As we gather to observe Easter, I question how in the West we can fail to remember our moral obligation to speak out against this injustice. We cannot remain silent in the face of these atrocities. Isn’t that the essence of Jesus’ teaching? The International Court of Justice has already ruled by a 50-to-two majority that it is plausible that Israel’s conduct in Gaza could amount to an act of genocide. Now, that was almost a month ago and things have gotten severely worse …”

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