By Kathleen Carmody
Social justice advocates, churches and refugee support groups have called for a more humanitarian approach to the plight of refugees and asylum seekers.
Organisations such as the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office, the Refugee Council of Australia, the Human Rights Council of Australia, the Uniting Church of Australia and the Australian Catholic Bishops’
Conference have spoken out against the treatment and handling of asylum seekers in recent weeks.
The president of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference, Archbishop Francis Carroll, said the position of the
Catholic Church was that Australia shouldn’t be treating people seeking asylum in our country in this manner.
“Australia has ratified the UN Convention on the Status of Refugees which obliges us ... not to
turn back those seeking asylum,” he said. “Last year, the Year of Great Jubilee in the Church, a Charter of Rights for Displaced Persons was issued from Rome. The first of those rights is ‘that displaced persons not
be turned back at the borders of the country where they seek protection’.”
Archbishop Carroll asked all Australians to put the shoe on the other foot. “Perhaps then a more considered and different response
would emerge,” he said.
Fr John Murphy, of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office, said that because of Australia’s small intake and the often long wait associated with offshore applications, it
was difficult not to blame people who had the chance and the means to come here through irregular means.
“The settlement countries need to get together and try and provide more settlement places and give
people greater hope of coming regular ways. Why would they risk their lives and spend money if they had a good chance of being accepted in a regular way?” he said.
He agreed that stories of children being
thrown overboard, and people refusing to disembark at Nauru and Ashmore Reef had damaged the image of asylum seekers.
“That hasn’t helped the image of people arriving this way with the general public. On the
other hand, we have to bear in mind if you’re on a ship for a long time, if you’re desperate you can do irrational things – if indeed that’s what was done, if that’s what happened. How can we be sure we haven’t
spoken to people?”
Fr Ron Perrett, a former diocesan director for Caritas Australia, said it was time for the major parties to lead the country by showing generosity of spirit and humanitarian principles
towards their fellow human beings.
The Catholic Weekly wants to know your views on the issue of refugees and asylum seekers. Do you agree with the actions taken by the federal government in
preventing boat people entering Australia, or do you support an alternative approach? We will publish the best selection of responses in a special forum on refugees in an upcoming issue.