By Peter Bugden
THE Australian Catholic bishops have a clear message for the Federal Government and for the broader community, on asylum-seeker policy – “Enough of this institutionalised cruelty”.
That was the plea made in a May 8 statement from the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference plenary meeting in Sydney.
The bishops, making an “urgent plea for a respect for the rights of asylum seekers”, clearly directed their message to the Australian community, and not just to politicians.
“Federal decision-makers in both major parties have made their decisions and implemented their policies because they think they have the support of the majority of Australians,” the bishops said in their statement.
“Therefore, we want to speak to the entire Australian community.
“The current policy has about it a cruelty that does no honour to our nation.
“How can this be when Australians are so generous in so many situations where human beings are in strife?”
The bishops said the question became “more pointed” when considering politicians who were making and implementing the decisions.
“They are not cruel people,” the bishops said.
“Yet they have made decisions and are implementing policies which are cruel.
“How can this be so? “
The bishops said the policy “can win acceptance only if the asylum seekers are kept faceless and nameless”.
“It depends upon a process of de-humanisation,” they said.
“Such a policy would be widely rejected if the faces and names were known.
“Bishops have seen the faces; we know the names; we have heard the stories.
“That is why we say now, ‘Enough of this institutionalised cruelty’.”
The ACBC joined with the Catholic bishops of Papua New Guinea “who have voiced their strong opposition to the use of Manus Island for detention (of people seeking asylum in Australia)”.
It said the PNG bishops had “urged Australia ‘to find a more humane solution to people seeking asylum’”.
“We call on the nation as a whole to say no to the dark forces, which make these policies possible.
“The time has come to examine our conscience and then to act differently.”
The ACBC statement said the bishops had previously intervened with Government “in an attempt to make policy more respectful of human dignity and basic human rights, which today are being seriously violated”.
Federal Immigration and Border Protection Minister Scott Morrison said asylum seekers were at risk in the system, regardless of where they may be accommodated.
“Asylum seekers have self-harmed in the community as well as in held detention and offshore processing centres,” Mr Morrison said.
“Tragically, asylum seekers like Reza Barati (who was being detained on Manus Island) have died in detention.
“His death is rightly the subject of serious and comprehensive investigation. Others have also died on release into the community.
“A community release policy, like offshore processing, carries risk.”
Mr Morrison said the boats carrying asylum seekers to Australia were stopping “but the legacy of Labor’s failure remains and it will be with us for some time”.
“The job will not be completed until claims have been processed, refugees are resettled, detention centres are emptied and those who were unsuccessful have gone home,” he said.
The National Council of Priests of Australia has endorsed the bishops’ statement and express its concern about the Australian Government’s treatment of asylum seekers.
In a statement issued on May 14, the NCPA said some of its members ministered to asylum seekers in detention centres and were concerned for their welfare.
“The hard-line policies of the current Australian Government towards asylum seekers and refugees is extinguishing the Christian virtue of hope for many of these people: some of whom have risked their lives for a new and better life after experiencing oppression and extraordinary deprivation both of rights and resources,” the NCPA statement said.
“Like our bishops, many of us have seen the faces and heard the stories of these people and cannot hide our shame at the way some are being treated.
“We stand with our bishops in entreating our nation to relook at the way we are currently treating asylum seekers and ask the Australian Government to change its cruel and inhuman policy towards those seeking asylum in Australia.
“We do not believe that concealing their stories or faces, or keeping secret what the Australian Government has been doing to deter these asylum seekers is helpful. We ourselves as a Church know the danger of secrecy in dealing with those who have been abused or mistreated in any way.
“We call upon the Australian Government and all politicians of goodwill to seriously review these policies in order to respect the human dignity of these asylum seekers both in Australia and those transported by the Government to other lands.”