Sydney Archdiocese REPORT:
16 Sep 2011
More than 200 charities across the country have offered to work with refugees and asylum seekers in an on-shore community-based detention program that the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO) believes would reaffirm the human dignity of those who come to our shores and prevent the trauma of being locked up often for a year or more while the claims for asylum are assessed.
"Community-based detention reaffirms the human dignity of the person seeking asylum and is in the best interests of the common good of all humanity," says Father Maurizio Pettena, Director of AMCRO for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC).
Pointing out that Australia has an exceptional community-led resettlement program for refugees, Fr Pettena says 200 charities involved in this work, have expressed their passion and commitment to work with asylum seekers if the Government adopted a community-based detention program which would allow them to live as normally as possible during the often long period it takes to have their claims processed.
"The human drive to escape war and poverty will continue to prompt asylum seekers to find alternatives, potentially placing their lives in even greater danger of exploitation and abuse," he says and insists when people flee war zones, torture and persecution it is not by choice, but desperation.
"No one wants to be in this situation and while the current Government has done much to humanise the approach towards asylum seekers, we would urge them to stop and reflect on their motives before going ahead with their current plan to change the Migration Act."
The Prime Minister, Julia Gillard hopes to pass legislation next week which would amend the current Migration Act, overturning the recent decision of the High Court that ruled the export of asylum seekers from Australia to a third country where human rights protections could not be guaranteed was unlawful.
The High Court's decision effectively scuttled its much touted "Malaysian solution" which would have seen 800 asylum seekers sent to Kuala Lumpur in exchange for 4000 processed refugees currently living in Malaysia.
The Government's advisers believe the High Court judgement may also preclude processing asylum seekers at the former Howard Government's detention centres on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and on Nauru. Despite both nations now signatories to the UN Convention on Human Rights there are currently no domestic laws in place to support these protections and under the High Court ruling may mean that transferring asylum seekers there may also be unlawful.
Intent on pursuing its Malaysian solution, the Gillard Government is also determined to alter the Migration Act to enable it to deport children and unaccompanied minors who arrive on our shores to Malaysia or other countries for processing. Currently the Minister of Immigration is legal guardian to any asylum seekers who are under age or unaccompanied minors, and is obligated to act in their best interests.
"We urge the Government not to change the Immigration (Guardianship of Children) Act which would allow the transfer of children and unaccompanied minors," Fr Pettena says. "These young people are among the most vulnerable in the world. The moral and decent thing is to process their asylum claims in Australia."
Fr Pettena also points out that despite the Government's insistence on pursing its "off shore processing" agenda that this does not solve the underlying problem.
People in danger who are forced to flee conflict zones or persecution in search of a dignified life with access to health, education, employment, and above all safety for themselves and their children will not stop trying to reach Australia's shores.
"The lives of our brothers and sisters would be severely affected by any changes to the Migration Ac the numbers of asylum seekers Australian can expect are not so large that we can't manage to deal with them effectively and with humanity," he says.