Representatives of Australia’s Catholic religious orders joined forces with people of other faiths at a parliamentary forum in Canberra on 15 October, raising grave concerns about the welfare of detainees on Nauru and Manus Island.
Sr Anne Lane PBVM, representing Catholic Religious Australia which organised the event, joined 49 other religious and faith leaders in calling for all children and their families currently being held in detention to be immediately released into the Australian community.
“Women have given birth, women have been raped and still we hold them there (Nauru) – never to be allowed to settle in Australia should they have arrived by boat,” Sr Lane said, before a group which also included cross-party MPs.
“We, the religious leaders of Australia are desperately concerned for our sisters and brothers on Nauru and Manus Island …
“There have been many reputable reports and a significant body of research that has emerged over the past decade demonstrating or confirming that immigration detention causes significant psychological harm to asylum seekers, with particular impact on children …
“We cannot allow such a cruel policy to continue.”
Sr Lane began by invoking the recent memory of Aylan Kurdi, a three-year-old boy whose lifeless body washed ashore on a Turkish beach, with resulting photographs causing worldwide sadness and alarm.
“This image was confronting and seems to have called on the best in people. There was such energy caused in our own country to challenge politicians to change their minds on accepting more refugees but, unfortunately, not those on Manus Island and Nauru.
“We, the religious leaders of Australia, are desperately concerned for our sisters and brothers on Nauru and Manus Island. We join our voices with those of thousands of other individuals and groups who are concerned about the injustices being perpetrated in our names.”
She also said the taxes of Australians are being squandered to the tune of $5 billion in maintaining the policy, saying the money would be better spent on enabling refugees and asylum seekers to “make a meaningful contribution to society”.
“We urge all political leaders to abandon offshore detention and temporary protection visas,” Sr Lane said.
“Additionally, we request that representatives of all political parties and independents work jointly to develop an alternative to offshore processing and detention, and to commit to a humane, well-funded regional solution for the settlement of refugees and asylum seekers under the auspices of the United Nations.
“We have witnessed before the good that happens when strong leadership and a non-partisan approach have been taken towards refugees by Members of Parliament.”