The Catholic Church is ready to collaborate with other community organisations in supporting asylum seekers, Bishop Vincent Long OFMConv of Melbourne said today.
It follows news that several Anglican and Uniting Churches have pledged sanctuary to the 220 asylum seekers on the mainland facing the prospect of being sent back to Nauru after yesterday’s High Court decision ruling offshore detention to be legal.
That number includes 30 babies, some of whom were born in Australia.
The ruling followed testimony in the media on 2 February from six doctors who complained of damaging and abhorrent conditions for children on the island, including accounts of violence and proliferation of behaviour disorders and self-harm.
(Allegations of sexual abuse at the Wickham Point detention centre in Darwin emerged earlier today.)
In his statement Bishop Long urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Immigration Minister Peter Dutton to show compassion and mercy, and asked them to refrain from decisions which would cause asylum seekers “even more harm than has been done already”.
“Following the High Court decision, the Australian Government’s response to people seeking asylum, including babies born in Australia and their parents, should focus on protecting them from harm and respecting their human dignity,” Bishop Long said.
“The Catholic Church is prepared to collaborate with other community organisations to provide support for asylum seekers.
“I urge the Australian Government to ensure that no child is subject to an unsafe and harmful environment and that no-one is returned to where they may face physical, psychological and sexual violence and harm.”
He reiterated earlier statements that Catholic Church continued to oppose mandatory detention and offshore detention saying they did not “respect the dignity of people seeking our help”.
“Governments have a responsibility to manage migration flows, but the Australian Government’s current approach is harsh and should change.”
The bishop’s statement also followed snap protests around the country, against the prospect of asylum seekers being returned to Nauru, including in Sydney, which Mr Dutton has previously indicated is his preference.
Bishop Long is a former refugee and Vietnamese boat person. He is the spokesman on refugees for the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.