First of all, we need to remember our own spiritual heritage. The Bible has many stories about being refugees and asylum seekers. Jacob took his extended family down into Egypt in a time of famine, so perhaps you could say they were economic refugees. At first, they were warmly received because of the family connection with Joseph, but later suffered severe oppression and the proposed murder of their sons. To escape this oppression, Moses led them on a long and dangerous journey through the wilderness to find a land where God had promised them safety. Many died along the way, but eventually they made their way to the land of Canaan. Here they were able to make a home. The dramatic story of the capture of the town of Jericho notwithstanding, Biblical scholars and archaeologists believe that for the most part the people moved slowly and peacefully into the land alongside the original inhabitants. The Biblical witness itself indicates that some original inhabitants were still living there in the time of David.
Some of the people became exiles again after the Babylonian conquest; perhaps we could say they were enforced refugees. They certainly had the refugee experience of having to leave behind all they held dear and having to make a life for themselves in a land whose customs, language and religion were foreign to them. Others, including the prophet Jeremiah, fled to Egypt. Perhaps that is why Joseph, centuries later, took Mary and Jesus to Egypt to escape the threat posed by Herod.
These memories of exodus and exile resonate throughout the Hebrew Scriptures. “Remember that you were slaves in Egypt” is a recurrent theme in establishing the laws of a society which cared not just for its own people but also “the foreigner who lives in your country.” (Deuteronomy 5:15, TEV)
Secondly, we need to remind ourselves that seeking asylum is NOT illegal. It is a human right as set out by the United Nations Refugee Convention, to which Australia is a signatory. It should not be punished by long term, arbitrary detention, nor should genuine refugees be denied entry simply because of their mode of coming to this country.
Thirdly, protecting our nation from the threat of terrorism does not necessitate harsh treatment of people who have come to us for safe refuge. Thorough background can be carried out just as easily while people are treated with dignity and respect.