Following the 2015-2016 Australian Catholic Bishops Conference Social Justice Statement on asylum seekers and refugees (see article opposite), CatholicOutlook chatted to prominent refugee, Schools Liaison Officer for Catholic Education Diocese of Parramatta, and Permanent Diaconate candidate, John Cinya.
A refugee from South Sudan who fled the civil war in 1995, Mr Cinya spent two weeks walking through bushland to get from Khartoum, Sudan to Ethiopia. He then lived in a refugee camp in Ethiopia for three years before being granted refugee status in 1998. From Ethiopia, he was flown to Australia to begin a new life.
Whilst welcoming the Australian government’s recent announcement of a one-off intake of 12,000 Syrian refugees, Mr Cinya feels it is not enough. “A rich country like Australia can do more. Here in Australia, how many times a day is a tonne of food being thrown away, while other people in the world have nothing to eat?
“When I was in the refugee camp, we were just given five kilograms of dried corn, one litre of oil, and five kilograms of red beans for two weeks. Sometimes I finished it early and I would go out to the bush and I would have to collect leaves to eat. I would boil the leaves just to fill my stomach, so I wouldn’t feel hungry. It is very difficult to be a refugee,” he reflected.
Having lived in a refugee camp and being formally resettled in Australia, John does not believe people who come by boat are ‘jumping the queue’, explaining, “In my culture, we say if you see a frog jumping during the day in the hot sun, it means there is a problem where he has come from. The frog does not move unless there is a problem. That is why these people are moving. There is a problem.
“Most people who come to Australia would not want to leave if their place was peaceful. I would not have left South Sudan if there was no problem. I had no choice. I had to leave. In the western world, people move because they are talented. They just want to change their life. It is different. They wouldn’t risk their life to come unless there was a problem. I would not risk walking through the bush for two weeks where I could meet lions or looters, unless there was a problem where I lived. Due to war, drought or disasters, people move.
“People asked Jesus why he went to the Gentiles, but he went because they were human. Forget about being Australian. Think of yourself as human. We have to treat refugees. We have to help refugees. The mission of the Church is to care for humanity. Australians are not called to just help Australians.”