Brisbane’s Catholic Justice and Peace Commission has expressed its concerns about the Federal Government’s decision to suspend processing of protection claims from Sri Lankan and Afghani asylum seekers.
The Commission’s Executive Officer, Peter Arndt, said that the decision shows no respect or compassion for Sri Lankan and Afghani asylum seekers.
“This blanket suspension of processing claims from Sri Lankans and Afghanis does not treat people as human beings with personal stories and experiences but as bureaucratic categories devoid of any human dignity,” Mr Arndt said.
“Our fundamental concern in relation to the refugee policies of both the Government and the Opposition is whether they prioritise the dignity of individual human beings who seek asylum,” he said.
“We are concerned to see that compassion and respect for human dignity underpin their policies and decisions,” he said.
“For us, these ‘strangers’ who come to our shores seeking protection must be treated in the same way as we would treat Jesus himself if he arrived in a boat,” he said.
“Jesus told us that we must welcome strangers and, when we do so, we are welcoming him,” he said.
“These asylum seekers challenge us to be signs of God’s love in the midst of much fear and mean-spirited attitudes,” he said.
“The Government’s decision, besides being heartless and inhuman, simply makes no sense,” he said.
“It is unbelievable that the Government needs time to assess what it says are changing circumstances in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan,” he said.
“It is the job of Foreign Affairs staff in Canberra and embassy staff in these countries to keep abreast of developments in those countries and to keep the Government informed,” he said.
“There should be no need for us to wait for three to six months to conduct an assessment which should be available to the Government and constantly updated as a matter of course,” he said.
“In fact, the Foreign Affairs Minister, Mr Smith, made a statement to Parliament about conditions in Sri Lanka only a couple of weeks ago,” he said.
“We do not need to wait for months for a re-assessment when he has detailed a long list of human rights concerns in Sri Lanka which the Australian Government is monitoring,” he said.
“It is incredible that the Government thinks things have improved in Sri Lanka when there are on-going reports of human rights abuses including ones which suggest that journalists and newspaper editors were arrested or intimidated during this month’s Parliamentary elections,” he said.
“It is just as extraordinary to hear that the Government thinks things may be better in Afghanistan when fighting is still going on there,” he said.
“The Opposition’s policies are just as concerning because they want harsher, tougher and more inhuman treatment of asylum seekers,” he said.