Holding on to hope

Sarah Puls SGS

Sarah Puls SGS

I don’t know about the rest of the country, but I’m tired and I’m frustrated, and I’m struggling to find hope for a way forward regarding Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, writes Good Samaritan Sister, Sarah Puls.

BY Sarah Puls SGS*

There is so much being written and said about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, especially those who arrive by boat, that I feel at a loss as to what to write now. Among such a cacophony, what more is there to say? Amid such stories of desperation and pain, where is there room for hope?

It seems that every day the media presents us with the situation of politicians announcing more plans to turn our collective back on those who come here seeking asylum, and footage of planes landing on remote islands to deposit their sorry cargo of desperate people left on the doorstep of nations far away from Canberra.

I don’t know about the rest of the country, but I’m tired and I’m frustrated, and I’m struggling to find hope for a way forward on these issues.

For several years now, I’ve been involved in the lives of various people who have come to Australia seeking asylum. Like many, many others (some of whom have been at it since I was a child), I’ve marched in rallies, I’ve written to politicians, I’ve participated in education and advocacy, and even in the years I’ve been doing that, it seems that the situation just keeps getting darker. With the federal election fast approaching, the situation, if possible, is deteriorating further.

Our federal government and the opposition seem to be racing inexorably to the bottom of a deep pit of darkness in which good policy is equated with treating people badly… not in a hidden or surreptitious way, but openly, deliberately, purposefully.

And what is there to do in the face of that? Certainly we must lament. But after that, in conjunction with that, how can we possibly find a way forward?

Hope seems essential and yet it feels almost impossible. But as I write that, I’m reminded of the many, varied and unlikely people who have taught me about holding onto hope when it seems impossible.

When I think about hope, my mind turns quickly to the people I know who have come to Australia seeking safety and refuge. These people have taught me more about hope than I ever could have imagined. Diverse in almost every way, these people have come from many different countries, ethnicities, religions and persecuted groups. They have found their way here in many different ways too: by boat and by air; through luck, through determination, through persistence; through the kindness of strangers and loved ones.

And yet, in all this diversity, what strikes me is not always the difference, but the similarity in their capacity to hope. And it’s a hope which I find hard to fathom, because to my eyes, it can look uninformed and foolhardy, but it’s actually inspiring and amazing.

It is a hope that life will not always be like this,
a hope that the persecutions, trauma and fears of the past will one day be behind them,
a hope that the suffering, fear and hardships of the present will one day be different.
It is a hope that in the end, God-willing, their life will be just that – a life.

I don’t know what it is like to flee for my life. I don’t know what it’s like to wake each morning and wonder if I will be safe; if I will hear good news or bad, or if, like so many days, it will be just another long day in the day-after-day of waiting.

But having walked with people who know that, and walked beside people on parts of that journey, it is absolutely clear that those experiences are not ‘life’ in the way that I understand the word.

Article three of the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights states that “Everyone has the right to life, liberty and security of person”. Everyone. Not people born in the right circumstances. Not people born in a particular country. Every human person. And, if it’s not possible in a person’s country of nationality, then it is that person’s human right to seek and enjoy protection from that persecution in another country. It’s not something we uphold because we are kind, generous and compassionate. It is a human right. For every human person.

And, of course it is not only the UN Declaration that upholds and promotes the right to life and security for every human person. It is also a fundamental standpoint of Catholic Social Teaching that every human person is made in the image and likeness of God and has dignity and worth. Every human person.

When I hear politicians talking about taking a ‘hard line’ in sending asylum seekers to Papua New Guinea and Nauru with the explicit intent of making life miserable for individuals, in the hope of deterring other individuals who are similarly desperate, I must protest.

I believe in the unalienable dignity and worth of every human person, based on my belief that each and every one of us is made in the image and likeness of God. Each and every person is a sign and embodiment of God’s love in the world. I cannot accept a policy or practice in which human persons are used as pawns, as strategic devices. I cannot accept any policy in which a human person is ‘used’ in any way.

So, when our two major political parties espouse policies which I find abhorrent on all these grounds, when there seems so little hope of a way forward which recognises and upholds the dignity of every human person, and which responds with compassion to the stranger in our midst, what am I to do?

Personally, I look for inspiration from the many asylum seekers who I have known and walked with through situations where hope seems impossible. In the darkest and most difficult times, I have witnessed unlikely and astonishing hope. I have witnessed hope which comes from faith; faith in God under many Divine names and many systems of knowing. And I have witnessed hope which comes from a place inside a person which is so deep and fundamental as to be beyond human expression.

This is the hope which we need to hold now. It is a hope which transcends ‘reality’ and belongs to our deep inner knowing that ‘life’ is not like this. Or knowing that real life, true life, is when truth, justice and peace will prevail. That may seem impossible, and maybe it’s not realistic, but it has to be the goal, the point on the horizon toward which we journey through the wilderness.

I hope, God-willing, this will happen in my time. And I know that, until it does, I must, we must, hold onto the hope which comes from God alone.

* Good Samaritan Sister, Sarah Puls trained as a social worker and has experience in the areas of mental health, homelessness and domestic violence. Recently she was appointed Co-ordinator of Good Samaritan Social Response – Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Human Trafficking. Before that she worked at the House of Welcome in Sydney, which provides housing, financial and casework support to individuals and families who are seeking asylum and are living in the community.

Confused about the asylum seeker issue and would like to know more?

OR, why not come along to an evening with Professor Gillian Triggs, President of the Australian Human Rights Commission, on August 27, 7pm, at St Scholastica’s College, Glebe, Sydney? Hosted by the Good Samaritan Sisters, the event aims to separate the facts from the myths about asylum seekers and refugees. Download event flyer here

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The Good Oil, August 20, 2013. If you would like to republish this article, please contact the editor.

17 Responses to “Holding on to hope”

  1. monica says:

    Sarah I too am sick to the pit of my stomach at our treatment of Asylum seekers and the inhumane policies of our Christian ???Politicians.Today’s Herald has given some Responses from Church Bulletin Boards visible from Highways- maybe a critical mass of us should wear Sandwich Boards. I rely on prayer and conversations mainly and our new espousal of “the new Science Stories gives me a hope of sending MORPHENGETIC FIELDS OUT TO THE ASYLUM SEEKERS THEMSELVES: TO OUR LEADERS: TO THE MEDIA AND TO ALLWHO FEEL UNENABLED , TO RISE UP in a Compassionate PEOPLES REVOLUTION.

  2. Rachel says:

    Can we continue to sing our national anthem? I refer particularly to the 2nd verse “for those who’ve come across the seas, we’ve boundless plains to share…”
    I am not sure this issue will even begin to be resolved until every one of us believes that asylum seekers, the disabled, the weak and oppressed are truly our brothers and sisters. Only then, can genuine compassion be offered

  3. Marie Jones says:

    Thank you so much, Sarah, for spelling it out so well. I have longed to write to Tony A. but have failed to do so. I am relying on prayer. It can work miracles.

  4. PS RANA says:

    Seeking Asylum is natural right as Australia was built by Boat Peoples.Govt needs to clearly differentiate between People-Smugglers and distress Asylum Seekers.

    Sarah, you are already very famous and equally loved amongst sydney based-asylum seeker community and your thoughts are touching and eye opening to those concerned. YOU have rightly advocate the much needed voice to be heard before it is too late. People like you are of-course valuable assets of community .
    God bless on all your efforts and sincerity . Keep it up.

  5. Good on you dear Sarah! And i hope and pray that this happens in your lifetime as you wish… Hold on to that hope and in God’s time and space it will happen! Thank you xo

  6. Jan says:

    Thank you Sarah. So well put. It gives me some hope that there a good people like you. Fighting against what both main parties want to o with asylum seekers – not ALL asylum seekers, just those that come by boat

  7. well said, Sarah. Keep up the pressure!

  8. Annie Dixon says:

    Very passionately worded Sarah – thank you! I could feel your frustrations. Keep up the fight. I’m dreading the coming elections – I cannot tolerate either party policies. Anniebags xx

  9. Nanoya Barrett says:

    I am in agreement, Sarah, with the frustration of trying to have the refugees’ cause known without the attendant myths surrounding them. I felt ashamed to be an Australian when I heard some of the politicians stance on asylum seekers to this country, both major parties are equally to blame. What is it about this country that fear and a sense of lack make us so uncaring, inhospitable and prejudiced? Let us start practising what we preach: Let it be done to us as we do to others!! Then let us see what would happen! Let Jesus be our benchmark of compassion. Keep up the good work Sarah.

  10. haruko morikawa says:

    Dear Sarah,
    I read your article,today. I am so frustlated with the treatment by the government. A few weeks ago, Philipinos were sent back by chartered planes. The night before they left, they werenot told what would happen to them. They do not know where they contact with in their country.They were sent back like logs. Your situation for the asylum seekers is similar to japanese way. Keep watch and spell out. haruko

  11. Col O'Brien says:

    Sarah, I too share your anguish and frustration. I too have been inspired by the refugees and asylum seekers with whom I have been involved over many years. I hope and trust believing that somehow something positive will come out of this “mess” created by our politicians.

  12. Great to feel the passion in what you have written, Sarah! Sociologists talk about the “critical mass” needed to effect a change. What do we have to do to get there? Marie.

  13. Elizabeth Young says:

    Thank you very much, Sarah. I agree completely and appreciate all that you, and many like you, are doing.

    The current political football game has meant that people suddenly have an opinion about asylum seekers that they never had before. I have had to painfully argue with family members who think that Australia does not have enough room for my friends who seek safety here. However, I saw unlikely hope the other day when I was sitting next to a rural woman who seemed very conservative in her political views. She suddenly changed the subject to say that she thought Australia should be helping more asylum seekers.

    I am sure there are more like her, who are finally getting sick of our race to the bottom of cruel ‘solutions’.

  14. Kate Vandenberg says:

    I’, glad to read someone sticking up for the refugees. I feel ashamed to be Australian when I hear Polies wanting to send them back

  15. Thank you Sarah. Keep giving account of the hope that is within you. It is a precious thing in times like these.

  16. elizabeth says:

    It seems that even in casual conversation, people are now bringing up the topic of refugees. Now it is good to read this news of an event and reading matter through which we can extend our views and deepen our response. Thank you.

  17. Alice Priest says:

    I’m in the same ‘boat’, Sarah…tired and weary with protest that seems to make no difference. Thanks for the reminder of the deeper and abiding source of hope.

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