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Leaders slam refugee policy

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The Bishop of Parramatta, Vincent Long OFM conv, has issued a strong statement condemning the Australian Government’s recent welfare crackdown on some asylum seekers. PHOTO: Robert Hiini

Enough is enough, says Catholic refugee advocates

Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, a former refugee, says the human cost of the impasse over mandatory and offshore detention of asylum seekers is “mounting by the day”.

In a statement on the sixth anniversary of the introduction of the so-called ‘stop the boats’ policy the chair of the Bishops Commission for Social Justice said that 12 young men have already died during those years with many more attempting self harm “out of utter despair”.

“International agencies have been appalled by the conditions under which they live and the effects on their health, spirits and self-respect,” said Bishop Long.

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Pope Francis, with whom the Australian bishops discussed the refugee crisis during their recent Ad Limina in Rome, was likewise “deeply concerned”, he said. Former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd announced the Federal Government policy on 19 July 2013 saying that no person seeking asylum by boat would ever be resettled in Australia.

Under the policy, named Operation Sovereign Borders, all asylum seekers would be placed in detention centres on Manus Island or Nauru, and details of boat arrivals would not be made public. Today about 800 people remain on Manus Island and Nauru.

“As a bishop and a former boat person, I deplore the detention of our brothers and sisters on Nauru and Manus Island,” Bishop Long said.

“While recognising the effort of the government to find a durable solution, I say with many fellow Australians that enough is enough.

“The harsh treatment of this relatively small number of people – most of whom have been proven genuine refugees – over the past six years is more than a shame, a disgrace, or something that we can say ‘not in our name’ to.”

Time to end ‘torture’

Meanwhile, the Darwin diocese wrote an open letter to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and all Australian MPs calling for the dismantling of the offshore detention centres and re-assuming of on-shore processing of refugee claims.

Darwin vicar general Father Malcolm Fyfe msc said that indefinite detention is a “slightly civilised form of torture”.

“With relentless regularity, Government ministers have blatantly repudiated and debunked the raft of concerns raised by United Nations personnel, the Human Rights Commission, church leaders, medical and legal experts, children’s welfare organisations and other highly principled members of the public,” he said.

Bishop Long called on government and political leaders to an end to a “deplorable situation” and find an alternate and “conscionable” solution.

“It is time to bring them here or to New Zealand, which has offered a helping hand,” he said. “Those refugees accepted for entry to the US could then migrate when their vetting processes are complete. The other refugees should then be able get on with their lives here in safety.

“Those who are not refugees can be held here in secure detention until they are returned home.”

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