In The News: In Sickness and In Wellness

A round-up of recent religion news. Continue Reading →

Christmas Island: Refugee Politics and an Orphan

by Nasya Bahfen

It was not nearly as dramatic as the footage beamed around the world of thousands of jubilant Egyptians celebrating in Tahrir Square, but the image of nine year old Seena Akhlaqi Sheikhdost caused a quiet revolution in Australia this week. Last December, the flimsy boat carrying Seena and up to a hundred Iranian, Kurdish and Iraqi asylum seekers smashed into a rocky cliff on the remote Australian territory of Christmas Island in the Indian ocean. Seena survived the shipwreck. His parents and brother did not. In early February, the first of the victims were buried in Sydney, including Seena’s father (the bodies of his mother and brother have not been found). Over and over again, Australians saw on television and in the newspapers gut-wrenching images of Seena’s face crumpled up in tears watching his father laid to rest in a traditional Muslim funeral, as members of his Sydney-based extended family tried in vain to console him.

The issue of asylum seekers who arrive by boat is a fiercely divisive one. It is played out in the media through a paradigm of xenophobia (those seeking refugee status have largely been Middle Eastern, at a time when the nature and legitimacy of Islam’s presence in Australia is being questioned); exaggeration about the size of the problem compared to, say, illegal immigrants who arrive by plane and overstay their visas; and false claims about the supposed entitlements of the overwhelming majority of boat arrivals who are ultimately found to be genuine refugees. Continue Reading →