Would I be prepared to give them shelter?
We have begun a new year: 2015. What will we celebrate and what will we hope for? These are good questions for us all to reflect on. A new beginning gives us a new energy that can offer some deeper hope that seeds of peace will start emerging in those torn-apart countries of Syria, Pakistan, Iraq, and regions where terrorist groups rule: such as Boko Haram in northern Nigeria, where so many young people have been abducted or killed.
Meanwhile it has been reported that at the close of 2014 Ireland has seen an increase of 47% in the numbers of people seeking asylum here, compared to 2013. However this figure has to be seen in a wider context. Out of 44 industrialised countries, only 15 in every 10,000 asylum seekers made their claim in the Republic during this past year, according to the Irish Refugee Council (Irish Times, Saturday, December 27, 2014).
Can we at home hope for a more just, humane, transparent and speedy process of asylum claims assessment this year? This is what we are expecting, after what the Minister for Justice, Francis Fitzgerald, promised late last year. A stated improvement in the economy should encourage us to be a little more generous. Last October, at a funeral in Sicily of 18 migrants who had tragically drowned trying to reach Europe from Africa, Msgr Angelo Giurdanella said in his homily: “The opposite of love is not hatred, but indifference.” This challenges all of us, especially, perhaps, those involved in drawing up the policies and legislation in our name. Any process of asylum claims assessment must be humane. A young man from Zimbabwe who had spent almost his entire childhood and all his schooling in a wealthy European country while awaiting a final judgement on his claim for asylum, was recently deported back to a land he did not remember and no longer knew, while his family remains in their adopted country. It is difficult to understand this decision, other than as a strict application of a law that takes no account of personal circumstances. It is the opposite of humane, can hardly be called speedy, and is of questionable justice.
2014 has ended, as every year does, in the middle of the Christian festivities surrounding Christmas, where we celebrate the birth of Jesus, God become human. Yet we know that this child experienced danger from the very start of his life. Welcomed by the poor, and by strangers, he had to flee from his own leaders who sought to kill him. On their return his little family settled in a small town of marginalised people, well away from the religious and political centres of power. We have to ask ourselves once again, would we, would I, be prepared to give them shelter? It is almost always those who have experienced loss, poverty or homelessness who are most ready to give shelter to others who need it. As a nation, we must never forget our own history: banished from the more fertile parts of the country to stony soil across the River Shannon, thousands had to try and eke out a living there, while wealthy landowners enjoyed the fruits of the rich soil in the south and east. Allowing for some exceptions, this was the situation until we gradually found independence and wealth. Christmas is a time to remember God’s gifts, to celebrate with family and friends. But never to forget those among us now who have no family or friends here, who have no place to call “home”, who are truly refugees, just as Jesus, Mary and Joseph were. May we resolve as this new year begins not to be indifferent to their needs