Future Seekers: Refugees and the Law in Australia.  By Mary Crock and Ben Saul  (The Federation Press Australia 2002; 134 pp; $24.95 softcover)

Have boat people always been illegal immigrants ?  Two hundred years ago foreign ships came to this Continent with human cargo, then introduced diseases, conducted ethnic cleansing, stole most of the land, and established sub-cultures based on profit and color. So what's the real difference now with  boat people - other than that they have no money or power ? 

This is an oversimplification of the past and the present, but there is some reality to it. With about 50 million displaced people in the world today the number is best thought of as equivalent of one Anglican out of every five in the world, or three times all Australians put together. Though an art term of law, an asylum seeker is only a person seeking protection as a refugee.

Australia currently admits 12,000 refugees each year, though reluctant to recognise those fleeing from domestic violence, China's One Child policy, homosexual discrimination, civil law, and rape. People smuggling is exploitive criminal behaviour. Since War II over 650,000 refugees have arrived here, including Sir Arvi Parvo and Sir Peter Abeles.

In 1999 Australians freely accepted 4,000 refugees from the Balkans, but the fear of  "an Asian" invasion of boat people changed perceptions especially when the media raised the question of "terrorists". Then there was the 'Tampa affair' on 26 Aug 01,  the call of a Federal Election, and then 11 Sept. Public opinion was hardened to a fortress mentality.

How to consider refugees and the law is the subject of Crocks and Saul's short book just released from Sydney's progressive publisher Federation Press with some funding from the NSW Law and Justice Foundation. As Senator Harradine has said, the book is a 'must read'

The authors cover the present state of play, including immigration control and refugee protection, people smuggling, determination proceedings, mandatory detention, and changes to asylum law since 1996, pleading for a fair go for all refugees.

Torture victims receive special treatment. The goal of torture is to destroy a person's soul, character and spirit rather than only punishing the body. 26 June is International Day for Torture Victims.

That Jesus and his family were once refugees is well noted in the 2002 Ecumenical Bible Studies for Lent/Pentecost from Alan Cadwallader, Bernadette Kiley and Peter Lockwood.  The Jewish nature of Matthew's community must be taken into account, as he was working for the future of his refugee community. 'Jewish' and 'refugee' are often synonymityes, though now we are 'gazing' back and not seeing as from within such communities. 

Future Seekers is an indispensable tool for social justice, for prayer and reflection