Catholic leaders have called for an end to the Federal Government’s policy of “indefinite and inhumane” offshore detention on the five-year anniversary of Manus Island’s designation as a processing centre for asylum seekers.
Director of the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office Fr Maurizio Pettena CS said detention had proved unnecessarily harsh with “tragic consequences” at both the island itself and subsequent transit centres in Lorengau in Papua New Guinea.
In a statement dated 19 July Fr Pettena wrote of riots and the deaths of seven asylum seekers on Manus Island, some of them by suicide.
“The deteriorating mental health of these men is of the utmost importance,” he said.
“Inadequate access to health care as well as substandard living conditions have all added to the hardships endured by these men.
“The indefinite nature of their situation continues to negatively impact their mental wellbeing.”
Jesuit Refugee Service Australia director Carolina Gottardo said that detaining women, children, and men on remote Pacific islands without certainty or remedy “for five long years is inhumane, unjustifiable, and unnecessary”.
“JRS Australia has seen first hand the effects of long-term incarceration on innocent people who have sought Australia’s protection in good faith,” she said.
“We once again call on the Australian government to find safe solutions for people whose fundamental rights have been violated by offshore detention.”
On 19 July 2013 the then Prime Minister, Kevin Rudd, and Prime Minister of Papua New Guinea, Peter O’Neill, signed the agreement which has since seen asylum seekers found in Australian waters transferred to the island for processing and resettlement in Papua New Guinea.
There are currently more than 600 men in detention at Manus, and more than 800 men, women, and some children at Nauru.
Despite an agreement for the US to relocate about 1200 refugees there this avenue is not available to all and it still remains “a protracted situation”, Fr Pettena said.
He called for the adoption of national policies that prefer alternatives to detention for asylum seekers, many of whom are children and young people.
“The human rights and dignity of these refugees must always be respected, and be the first consideration, for decision-makers,” he said, adding that the Catholic Church has always insisted on the importance of taking a holistic and integrated approach in focusing on the dignity of the human person.