Monthly Archives: June 2011

A Call for Christians to Stand Up for Asylum Seekers and Refugees

Monday 20 June 2011

 

In the current debate on Australia’s policy on the treatment of asylum seekers, it is imperative that Christians be active in promoting respect for the dignity of every human being who flees persecution and violence and seeks asylum in our country.

There is little evidence that respect for the human dignity of asylum seekers is at the heart of either the Government’s or the Opposition’s policies.  Both sides support prolonged, mandatory detention of asylum seekers in isolated centres on mainland Australia and in offshore facilities; both sides have been responsible in government for locking up many children seeking asylum; and both sides are willing to ‘export’ asylum seekers to other countries where they are deprived of basic rights and subjected to further danger or harm.  These approaches can only add to the trauma, anxiety and deprivation suffered by asylum seekers.  They demonstrate a deplorable lack of compassion and are grossly unjust.

It is also apparent that the willingness of major political parties to adopt harsh policies which subject asylum seekers to trauma, humiliation and indignity is, in part, fuelled by hostile attitudes among some in the Australian community towards people of different races, ethnicities and religions.  Such intolerance and discrimination should not shape Australia’s policies on the treatment of asylum seekers and refugees nor should they be accepted by Christians or condoned by their silence.

In his Message for World Migrant and Refugee Day 2011, Pope Benedict XVI stressed the responsibility of Christians to be a sign of union with God and of the unity of the human family.  He said that it was imperative for us to welcome refugees as our sisters and brothers:

“… in the case of those who are forced to migrate, solidarity is nourished by the “reserve” of love that is born from considering ourselves a single human family and, for the Catholic faithful, members of the Mystical Body of Christ: in fact we find ourselves depending on each other, all responsible for our brothers and sisters in humanity and, for those who believe, in the faith. As I have already had the opportunity to say, ‘Welcoming refugees and giving them hospitality is for everyone an imperative gesture of human solidarity, so that they may not feel isolated because of intolerance and disinterest’.”

The Pope goes on to explain what welcoming our sisters and brothers seeking asylum entails:

“This means that those who are forced to leave their homes or their country will be helped to find a place where they may live in peace and safety, where they may work and take on the rights and duties that exist in the Country that welcomes them, contributing to the common good and without forgetting the religious dimension of life.”

While the Pope acknowledges that Governments have a responsibility to regulate the flow of migrants and to defend their borders, he insists that, whatever they do in this regard, they must always guarantee “the respect due to the dignity of each and every human person.”

The Government’s proposed agreement with Malaysia clearly fails to guarantee respect for the human dignity of asylum seekers.  It proposes to engage in people trading which is unconscionable and morally wrong under any circumstances, even if it achieved its aim of “stopping the boats”.  It cannot guarantee that those sent to Malaysia prompt and transparent processing of their claims for protection; it cannot guarantee that they will have access to work, education, health care or welfare; and it cannot guarantee their physical safety while awaiting a determination.

The Opposition’s proposal to resurrect “the Pacific solution” with the cooperation of the Government of Nauru fails the same human dignity test.  When this measure was employed by the Howard Government, it resulted in asylum seekers languishing on Nauru for years awaiting a determination and, when that determination was finally made, the vast majority of asylum seekers were found to be bona fide refugees who were resettled in Australia.  Many needed immediate and substantial medical treatment for the psychological traumatisation caused by their prolonged detention.

Offshore processing of refugee claims, whether in Malaysia, Nauru or Papua New Guinea has been instigated by successive Australian Governments as a means of thwarting so-called people smugglers.  There is no doubt that the exploitation of the misery and desperation of asylum seekers by people smugglers is abominable, but subjecting asylum seekers to harsh and inhumane treatment as a means of countering people smuggling is reprehensible as it only compounds the suffering and injustice asylum seekers endure.

While the numbers of asylum seekers coming to Australia by boat in recent years is higher than in the past, they are still very small compared with those seeking asylum in other countries.

As a wealthy nation and as a signatory to the Refugee Convention, Australia has the capacity and the responsibility to process and resettle the number of asylum seekers currently arriving on our shores. 

It is appalling that our political leaders would rather enlist developing nations which already have many asylum seekers within their borders to deal with those who come to our shores than to directly process their claims here in Australia as is our obligation under the Refugee Convention.

It is also deplorable that we insist on detaining asylum seekers in remote facilities for long periods at enormous financial expense to the country and at great expense to the mental and physical welfare of asylum seekers.  It is time that both major parties adopted other less harmful and expensive means of processing claims for protection promptly in Australia.

There are hundreds of thousands of asylum seekers in our region.  Most of them wait for many years in pitiful conditions for their refugee claims to be determined and to be resettled.  Our political leaders should devote much more of their energy to working with all the countries in our region with large numbers of asylum seekers, countries which re-settle refugees, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees and non-government organisations working in the region to improve the standard of accommodation and support for asylum seekers, to improve and expedite the processing of refugee claims and to re-settle refugees more efficiently and promptly.  Such a regional focus will offer hope to the large numbers of people seeking protection in the Asia/Pacific region.  At the same time, it will offer Australia a framework within which it can seek assistance to deal with specifically Australian refugee issues without resorting to inhumane approaches.

Australia must fulfil its obligations in full as a signatory to the Refugee Convention; it should only do deals with countries which are signatories to the Convention; and it should actively work for a genuine regional framework for the processing of refugee claims and the resettlement of refugees.

The Archdiocesan Justice and Peace Commission will make our concerns known to the Federal Government and the Opposition, to all the Members of Parliament in our Archdiocese and to all Queensland’s Senators.  The Commission urges Catholics, our Christian sisters and brothers and all people who support the values informing the Refugee Convention to join with us in rejecting the crass and unseemly politicking which worsens the pain and injustice endured by asylum seekers and refugees and the racial and religious intolerance to which it panders.

For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.

NB  This release is issued with the approval of the Commission or its Executive under the provision of its Mandate which enables it to speak in its own right.  The views expressed in it do not necessarily represent the views of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.
 

Last Days to Sign Petition re Sri Lankan Human Rights Violations

Friday 20 May 2011

Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission, in collaboration with Pax Christi Queensland, has launched a campaign to encourage the Australian Government to press for the full implementation of the recommendations of a report on accountability for human rights violations committed in the final stages of the bloody Sri Lanka conflict which ended two years ago.

The report was prepared for the United Nations Secretary-General by an advisory panel of three experts and was delivered to the Secretary-General in April.

The report found that there were credible allegations of serious violations of human rights law and humanitarian law committed by both the Sri Lankan Government and the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam (LTTE).

Allegations against the Government included that it shelled civilians in “safe zones”, that it shelled hospitals and humanitarian facilities and that it denied humanitarian assistance to victims of the conflict.

Allegations against the LTTE included that it killed civilians trying to flee LTTE-controlled areas, that it recruited child soldiers and that it recruited forced labour.

The advisory panel recommended that the Sri Lankan Government conduct a thorough investigation of these allegations in line with international standards and that the United Nations establish international mechanisms to support these investigations.

The panel also recommended that the Sri Lankan Government adopt a number of short term accountability measures which ensure respect and dignity for the victims and survivors of the conflict.

It also recommended a number of long term measures including a formal apology by the Sri Lankan Government for its human rights violations and the provision of reparations to survivors of the conflict.

The Justice and Peace Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that its campaign seeks to encourage the Australian Government to become a committed advocate of the full implementation of the report’s recommendations.

“Our fundamental concern is for a lasting peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka,” Mr Arndt said.

“Hundreds of thousands of people were put through the most horrifying and appalling experience at the hands of both the Sri Lankan Army and the Tamil Tigers,” he said.

“There can be no healing unless those on both sides who were responsible for their suffering are held to account,” he said.

“The UN panel judged that the investigations and reconciliation processes put in place by the Sri Lankan Government to date are inadequate and flawed,” he said.

“We believe that Australia must play its part in ensuring that peace and reconciliation in Sri Lanka is possible,” he said.

The Commission and Pax Christi Queensland launched their campaign last night at a prayer service at St Oliver Plunkett Church in Cannon Hill.

The campaign encourages people to sign a petition to the Senate and to contact their local MPs and Senators calling on them to encourage the Australian Government to support the UN panel’s recommendations.

“We have also asked that people pray for the people of Sri Lanka and especially for those who are still suffering including the thousands still in detention two years after the war,” Mr Arndt added.

Download copies of the Sri Lanka petition 2011 and the Sri Lanka info sheet 2011 (1)

For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.

NB This release is issued with the approval of the Commission or its Executive under the provision of its Mandate which enables it to speak in its own right. The views expressed in it do not necessarily represent the views of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.

Commission Issues Call for Climate Action


Monday 6 June 2011

 

 Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission today issued a statement calling for urgent and effective action on climate change.

The statement also called on Catholics to get involved in promoting effective action by government, industry and the community to address the serious threats posed by climate change.

The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that the Commission is concerned that too much time is being wasted by ill-informed debates about climate science and by self-interest.

“We think it is time for people in the community and the Church to stop wasting time debating whether climate change is happening and whether human beings are the cause,” Mr Arndt said.

“The reality is that the proposition that the earth is warming is supported by the vast majority of scientists who are prepared to publish their findings in scientific journals and subject themselves to the searching scrutiny of their fellow scientists,” he said.

“They also agree with almost total certainty that human activity has caused this,” he said.

“We cannot waste any more time because the consequences of delay will be dreadful for future generations,” he said.

The Commission’s statement refers to a recent report of the Pontifical Academy of Sciences which summarises information about the current evidence for climate change and recommends urgent action to reduce carbon emissions.

Mr Arndt said that the Commission did not feel it had the capacity to make judgments about the different mechanisms being proposed for bringing about a transition in the Australian economy in which carbon emissions are drastically reduced.

“We do, however, feel strongly that policies need to bring about significant reductions in carbon emissions and that this means a move away from burning of fossil fuels and towards the use of renewable energy as the Pontifical Academy of Sciences report recommends,” he said.

“The Commission also sees the need for an adequate response,” he said.

“Both sides of politics are currently committing to a 5% reduction in carbon emissions and this is not likely to be enough if we are to avoid massive problems down the track,” he said.

“The Commission also stresses that the plight of those already suffering the consequences of climate change such as those in Pacific island nations need to be remembered,” he said.

“Those who are poor and vulnerable in Australia also need to be protected from the economic consequences of a transition to renewable energy,” he said.

“The Commission calls on everyone to work together to come up with a plan which effectively addresses the threats of climate change,” he said.

“We want to see political and economic self-interest put aside in favour of protecting the long term interests of God’s creation, the whole human family and all the precious ecosystems which sustain us,” he said.

For further information, please contact Peter Arndt on (07) 3336 9173 or 0409 265 476.

NB  This release is issued with the approval of the Commission or its Executive under the provision of its Mandate which enables it to speak in its own right.  The views expressed in it do not necessarily represent the views of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Brisbane.