The subdued young man sitting in front of the Border Force official looked tired and unkempt. And yet, in a stark contrast his deep brown eyes seemed alive; like quiet wells of clarity and understanding. The officer discreetly surveyed the figure sitting before him as he reviewed the confidential case notes on the screen. The man had fled from the Middle East without identification papers or passport, and enquiries had revealed him to have a record of public nuisance and disrespect for religion and government authority. He had been on a watch-list for some time as a result of his anti-social activities and it appeared that he had been detained and questioned in his own country on at least one previous occasion.
In previous interviews, the young man had revealed that he had suffered severe torture during this time, although this could not be verified by other intelligence sources. Today, he had answered each question dutifully and respectfully but offered nothing further by way of amplification or explanation. The only time that he spoke out of turn during the interview was to politely enquire as to how much longer he would remain in indefinite detention.
‘I would prefer you didn’t use the term indefinite detention’ said the officer.
‘Perhaps then, you are able to tell me when you propose to release me?’
‘I’m sorry but as you know, I can’t give you a time. It will take as long as it needs to in order to establish your legitimacy as a refugee.’
‘And is that not then by definition indefinite?’
The officer said nothing, dropping his eyes to scour the information on his profile, rather than look into those eyes. The stranger continued, his voice softly insistent:
‘I had hoped for a welcome place at your table, but instead found only tall fences and high walls.’
‘How long have you been here now?’ asked the officer, already knowing the answer.
‘It has been almost four years since our boat arrived on your shore,’ came the calm response.
‘Yes, I see,’ continued the officer, quickly searching the dark eyes that held his gaze unerringly. ‘And can you tell me why you decided to come here by boat?’
The man bowed his weary head momentarily; his patient demeanour unchanged. He had been asked the same question more than a dozen times since first arriving here. His response, when it came, was thoughtfully weighed.
‘Ask yourself, how dire must a danger be on dry land that men and women would consider the safer option for their children to be weeks on an angry sea in a small leaky boat?’
Hidden behind the screen the officer rolled his eyes; pausing to down the last dregs of his lukewarm coffee. Boat people. He had not thought to offer the swarthy man a drink, despite the heat of the day. In truth, the bearded stranger unsettled him somehow, leaving him oddly uncomfortable and off-balance.
‘What can you tell me about your family circumstances?’
‘My family had fled persecution and re-settled in a rural area. We were not wealthy, but I learned a trade from my father and earned a living that way. But I am sure you already know all of this.’
The uniformed man breathed a heavy frustrated sigh. Straightening visibly in his chair, he drew a deep centering breath and assumed an air of formality:
‘The problem is we have received concerning information that suggests you are a political dissident. An agitator. This is significant and it may affect your claims for residency in Australia. As you can appreciate, we cannot allow people of bad character to threaten our community and way of life. We are a Christian nation, and as Christians we care for one another. Do you understand?’
‘Sir, I have no criminal convictions and I have hurt no-one; nor have I encouraged anybody to do so. I have only spoken my truth, and that I understand is not a crime.’
‘You arrived here without a valid passport or travel document and that could be seen as a crime.’
‘I have never had need of a passport, but I have never represented myself fraudulently. Your people seem far more intent on proving the threat that I represent, than in who I truly am. I was given only a boat number for a name when I arrived here.’
The officer glanced back at the computer screen, grateful that the interview was coming to an end.
‘Well, perhaps you could state your full given name for me?’ asked the officer in a tired voice.
The bearded, unkempt young paused momentarily, before delivering his perfectly measured reply:
‘I am Jesus Christ, son of Joseph, son of God.’
* * *
Last week the Hon Scott Morrison MP stated that he will “fight back against discrimination and mockery of Christians and other religious groups in 2018.” In his maiden speech a decade ago, Morrison spoke of the importance of his deep personal faith. The tragic irony of this is that the Jesus Christ in whom he places this deep faith was a brown skinned young man of Middle Eastern descent. A man who had effectively been put on a ‘watch list’ as a trouble-maker and agitator. A man who, if fleeing that oppression today and seeking refuge in Australia, would very likely be thrown into a detention centre indefinitely by Christians such as Morrison and his ilk.
It seems that this hypocrisy is all but lost on our politicians as they prepare to celebrate the birth of the man whose teachings they claim to follow. It is a further irony then that these men who claim such allegiance to Christ also turn a blind eye to the human rights atrocities on a detention island named after Him – Christmas Island.