Time to end cruel asylum seeker policies

Caritas Australia has joined with the thousands of Australians who rallied yesterday seeking a more compassionate response by Australia’s political leaders to the plight of more than four million Syrian people who have fled civil war in their country.

Many Australians were moved by the pictures of Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi, whose tiny body was found washed up on a beach last week.

“Australians are good and compassionate people,” said Caritas Australia chairman Bishop Greg O’Kelly.

“Yet our leaders are not playing an adequate part in the global response to the Syrian crisis.”

Syrian and Afghan refugees wave as they approach the Greek island of Lesbos. The International Organisation for Migration says up to 2000 refugees are taking the route through Greece, Macedonia and Serbia to Hungary daily. Photo: CNS/Dimitris Michalakis, Reuters

Pope Francis this week called on people to be better neighbours to those in need.

“This has been one of his main messages since he visited an Italian centre for refugees at Lampedusa two years ago. At that time he urged us all to stop looking the other way and to become active in directly supporting our suffering brothers and sisters who have been displaced by conflict.”

Australia’s leaders have forgotten how much international support is being provided by far poorer nations, he said.

“Currently, one quarter of Lebanon’s population are refugees. Nearly 20 per of Jordan’s population are refugees and Germany has just committed to taking 800,000 refugees.

“For one of the world’s wealthiest countries, Australia’s current refugee intake of 13,750 does not reflect the compassion and concern of the Australian people.”

He said the 20th anniversary of Australian’s introduction of mandatory detention for asylum seekers arriving by sea was “time for Australia to increase the number of refugees it takes substantially and end the cruel policies supported by both sides of Australian politics”.