On the 6 May 2011, the Uniting Church Assembly issued the following statement about plans the Government was exploring to re-open the detention centre in Manus Island – another God-forsaken place we have access to for the dumping of vulnerable people who we believe we bear no responsibility for. This even though we continue to lose young soldiers fighting against the very regime many of these asylum seekers are fleeing.
In light of what we are learning about the kind of culture that gives rise to such disturbing events like the London riots, the Government might like to think very very carefully about what kind of message they are sending about the important balance of rights and responsibilities.
Here is what we said back in May:
The Uniting Church in Australia is dismayed at reports that the Government is planning to re-open the detention centre on Papua New Guinea’s Manus Island, Uniting Church President, Rev. Alistair Macrae, said today.
“We are extremely concerned that the Government is proposing a ‘Pacific Solution Take Two’ that will shift Australia’s burden of caring for a relatively small number of asylum seekers onto one of our poorest neighbours,” Rev. Macrae said.
The National Director of the Uniting Church’s national justice and advocacy agency, UnitingJustice Australia, Rev. Elenie Poulos maintains that in addition to this, any plans to intercept asylum seekers in Australian waters and detain them in a third country would be a blatant abandonment of our obligations under the Refugee Convention.
“We have a responsibility under international conventions. Manus Island is a totally inappropriate location for the provision of adequate and appropriate legal advice and health care to people who are often already physically and mentally traumatised,” Rev. Poulos said.
“People detained on Manus Island during the Pacific Solution were forgotten – it was very much a case of ‘out of sight, out of mind’. Very few countries were willing to bail out the Australian Government and resettle refugees from Manus Island and Nauru. This meant people were left languishing in detention for years.”
The Uniting Church believes that the politicisation of asylum seekers and the continual misrepresentation of the arrival of asylum seekers as a problem, have inevitably created what is now a stressed and dysfunctional system.
“It is a sad fact that there are people who must flee for their lives from persecution and corrupt and violent regimes. The policy imperative is to meet our international obligations and provide safety where it’s required in a timely and compassionate manner,” said Rev. Macrae.
“Both the Opposition and the Government must shoulder the responsibility for the continual damage being inflicted on the health and wellbeing of already traumatised people and the hardness of heart that has developed in the Australian community towards people who come calling on us for safety and care. We can no longer claim to be the ‘land of the fair go’.”
Plans to re open this facility will also cost the Australian Government millions. “The Howard Government spent $1.3 million over 6 months to detain one asylum seeker on Manus Island,” said Rev. Poulos.
“A truly regional solution, which provides desperate asylum seekers a real alternative to engaging a people smuggler, is very different to Australia dumping our obligations on another country. It is crucial that the Government reveal more detail about its plan. With very little information about their plans and progress in multilateral talks for a regional processing framework, we can only be extremely concerned by the prospect of the reopening of Manus Island,” Rev. Poulos said.
And about the Opposition’s exuberant joy in the mess that’s been created, no-one should be listening to them. It is some extraordinary hypocrisy for them to claim any interest at all in the rights or welfare of asylum seekers and refugees.