On Monday, 13 October, Captain Craig Farrell* joined other Christians in the 11th ‘Love Makes A Way’ (LMAW) protest. They set up peacefully, uninvited, in the Geelong office of the shadow minister for immigration and border protection and federal member for Corio, the Hon. Richard Marles.
Having protested the open-ended detention of 726 refugee children, Craig and his friends were then arrested for trespass, and subsequently bailed to appear in Geelong Magistrates Court on 11 December.
The Baptists, Catholics, Uniting Church members etc. of the LMAW movement have been instrumental in raising public awareness of the plight of children, in particular, who are imprisoned offshore.
Craig, however, was the first ‘Salvo’ to join the church ranks and be arrested as a protestor.
Officers ‘laid hands’ on Craig and his fellow protestors, in a gentle, civil manner. ‘At that point, by the time the police arrived, there was a sense of peace that was mixed with anxiety. Anxiousness…I was privileged to share a divvy van and a cell with Baptist minister, Simon Moyle, another Love Makes a Way movement member, so I was in great company.
‘Simon made the comment that now is the time to just relax and let the Spirit take over. I did that; I don’t think I had much of an option. Yes, I was anxious about the unknown…but that surrender, that submission, followed. I was open to God’s leading.
‘I was released on bail. If there is a fine awaiting me, it will be covered by LMAW; the total cost is paid for as a group.’
Prior to his arrest he and his fellow Christians had prayed, sang, talked and hoped. And before that? Well and truly, during a lengthy vigil of hope, frustration, grace and despair, Craig had prayed and agonised over what his participation could mean for those children and for his co-religionists.
Post-arrest, Australia Southern territorial media relations director Bruce Redman affirmed Craig’s role, stating that ‘The Salvation Army is proud to support Captain Craig Farrell in his attempt to highlight the suffering of families in immigration detention, in particular, women and children… From our point of view, it is about dignity and protecting innocence.’
A long-timed, passionate refugee advocate, Craig knows full well that the choices we make cause ripples. Choices change the fluid shape of our lives, and can prove to have a tidal pull on the lives of others. For Craig, the history of The Salvation Army’s engagement with refugees and asylum seekers prompted months, years, of prayer and questioning.
‘I initially wrestled with the idea of participating in the protest,’ Craig explained. ‘There were practical questions of how best to negotiate the landscape; how to inform leaders of my desire to be an advocate for the children and adults who are locked up, even though they have committed no crime.
‘In terms of the territorial involvement, where the Australia Eastern Territory had been providing humanitarian services, contracted to the federal governments of the day, the question in my mind was “Would that distract from the intent of the protest if I were to take part?” The answer from Love Makes a Way was a clear “no” – my participation as a Salvationist would not distract from the protests, but would actually help to focus the issues.
‘For me, then, the question was, “Where do I go first?” I approached Commissioner Floyd Tidd, and flagged my passion and the opportunity to protest; he consulted the communications team and gave his blessing.’
Craig knows that Australians can feel overwhelmed by needs, and that people don’t like to think about refugees. ‘When they do,’ he explains, ‘sometimes they buy into easy answers and labels that call them “economic migrants”, rather than who they are – people fleeing for their lives.
‘Why does anyone seek asylum? There are issues of deep trauma and loss. The decision to get onto a leaky boat is not made lightly.
‘For the vast majority of asylum seekers, risking their lives to the ocean depths is the end of a road they take through crippling fears and genuine hopes for a continued life. The mislabelling of refugees and the erroneous views about the jumping of non-existent queues, and all the religious vilification, the fear mongering and racial profiling that goes with it… we have a lot to work through as a society.’
Captain Craig Farrell says that the simplistic ‘Stop the boats’ mantra fails at the acid test for any human being.
‘That response fails to recognise that those very same boats have human beings who have often been tortured and had loved ones murdered. They are fleeing from trauma. Westerners often don’t get that connection.’
For Craig, the clash of roles – respectable member of the clergy, civilly disobedient citizen – was minimal. Facing police officers, knowing that he was going to be placed behind bars for his part on the protest, was uncomfortable, yes; but far from the hazards that refugee children face on a daily basis.
The Love Make a Way protestors choose to take their actions because nothing else has worked.
Hard hearts remain hardened against needs.
Untruths are still spread.
Fears are still exploited.
Craig talks about The Salvation Army’s need, as part of the Christian church, to oppose ‘a general unwillingness to pursue education about the issues around incarcerating asylum seekers, and a lack of desire and ability to drill down to causes.
‘As Australians it has proved easier to be comfortable, to have a ‘dog in the manger’ closedmindedness; but when we do that our priorities are skewed. I am not saying I have this all sorted. I wrestled with it, and I continue to do so – it led me here.’
Will other members or officers also make the choice that Craig made? ‘I am hopeful,’ Craig says. ‘People may consider the issues, consider my actions and choose to engage also. There is no reason it has to be in the same way and manner, and there is no reason why it shouldn’t be. We need to encourage both education and action.
‘For me, beyond the politics, and public relations and media implications, there are the deeper questions. Where is God leading us? Where is God leading you? What are the voices in this asylum seeker debate, and where are they headed? And what becomes of the men, women and children who are being brutalised?
‘The responses to my decision to protest and be arrested? Well, I was mostly hearing relief that a Salvation Army officer had joined the wider church in protesting cruelty and neglect of vulnerable people. Many people have been and are deeply concerned at the damage that is done to children and adults in our name.
‘What does the future hold? Would I do it again? For now I’m certainly not saying no; I can’t guarantee that I won’t. But I am going to let things settle until after December. Obviously the LMAW campaign continues and will do so until all children and families are released from immigration detention. There are a lot of politicians, federal MPS, still left to be visited on behalf of refugees and their children. I will keep in contract with the group and liaise with them.
‘It really is a question of discernment, though, and me recognising that I am not the only person who can make this kind of contribution. We are seeing some signs of progress, and we hope that God is moving hearts and minds. Seeing some children released, I believe, was a combination of the human rights report and the LMAW protest movement had something to do with it also.
‘There is also room to move with other Salvation Army officers. I know there are a few contemplating this kind of action. That’s encouraging. It’s like Elijah and the other prophets – there are quite a few of us in the cave. It’s individual choices as well.
‘We need to be clear though, how do Salvation Army officers and soldier get involved? We just need people to participate; to stand up for what they are passionate about, and be open to the Spirit’s leading.
‘What’s the indication from THQ on this, and what’s the indication from divisions? We don’t want to act out of anything else but respect and the motivation of God’s leading.
‘I don’t have the answers at present. But, in hindsight, would I do it again? Yes.’
More than 74 Christian leaders and ministers have now been arrested in this ongoing protest against the illegal and unethical detention of 726 refugee children; a figure that has been reduced from several thousand children.
* Currently the Melbourne Central divisional youth and candidates secretary and the divisional social justice coordinator, Craig will take up a new appointment in January as the territorial youth secretary.