REFUGEE rights advocate and Catholic mother Michelle McDonald is standing by to welcome some of the 854 men detained in an off-shore detention centre that is set to close.
Ms McDonald, who is an organising committee member with Christian advocacy group Love Makes a Way, was among hundreds of Catholics celebrating the small win for refugees on Manus Island after the Papua New Guinea Prime Minister Peter O’Neill and Australian Immigration Minister Peter Dutton declared the centre would be closed. Ms McDonald is now rallying to get those whose claims have been successfully processed, into Australia.
“Significantly, ninety-eight per cent of men on Manus Island whose refugee claims have been assessed have been found to be genuine refugees,” she said.
“The Australian Government should resettle these men in Australia immediately so they can contribute to our community as refugees have done historically, and no longer be left to languish in a soul-destroying limbo.
“PNG is an impoverished nation, so Australia should not offload its responsibility for these men on a country that is already struggling.”
Following news of the detention centre’s closure, the Brisbane-based Catholic praised PNG for leaning on the moral obligation to protect the 854 remaining refugees on the island.
“In this Jubilee of Mercy, it is encouraging that nations like PNG are respecting the law and moral obligations by announcing that Manus Island’s detention centre will shut, however it’s a shame that the Australian Government did not initiate this decision,” Ms McDonald said.
Religious sisters across Australia have also demanded Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull issue amnesty for asylum seekers in all offshore detention camps run by or on behalf of Australia.
Sisters of St Joseph congregational leader Sr Monica Cavanagh said the order’s sesquicentenary and inspiring work of St Mary of the Cross MacKillop motivated Australian Catholic religious orders to follow their country’s first saint.
“In the context of the imminent closure of the Manus camp … the men on Manus must be granted this amnesty and brought to Australia, not to some other temporary or unsafe context,” Sr Cavanagh said, speaking at Mary MacKillop Place in Sydney.
Once the men have been resettled in Australia, the sisters would support a national summit to find new ways to deal with asylum seekers that complied with international laws and human rights commissions.
“We are making a personal appeal to Mr Turnbull and Mr (Bill) Shorten: please put human dignity above politics by agreeing to work together,” Sr Cavanagh said.
Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce executive officer of Misha Coleman said: “We don’t accept the argument that it’s impossible to bring people here for fear of the people-smuggling trade re-starting.”
“We can’t wait for more children to be abused in the offshore camps, for alternatives to be put in place,” she said.
“That’s why Catholic sisters from across Australia are calling for a one-off amnesty for people in the offshore centres – this is less than 2000 people.
“Most of these people have already been found to be refugees. They have endured enough. Let’s empty the camps.
“We also don’t accept that Australia has to turn people seeking asylum back to the countries from which they’ve fled, in order to have a sound policy framework.
“There are alternative solutions that are being ignored because of partisan debates. We need a Summit of Solution now to force our leaders to put safety above politics.”
And the Royal Commission into Institutional Responses to Child Sexual Abuse has been drawn into the debate of abuse of minors in immigration detention centres.
Commission chair Justice Peter McClellan spoke out in response to recent media reports, which detailed hundreds of allegations of abuse on Nauru.
He said the Royal Commission had an ongoing investigation in relation to the Department of Immigration and Border Protection’s response to allegations of child sexual abuse in detention centres and that whether or not a public hearing was warranted had not been determined.
Truth, Justice and Healing Council chief executive officer Francis Sullivan said it “beggared belief” that as the country’s longest-running, most expensive Royal Commission was underway into the sexual abuse of children in institutions, both major parties “sanctioned the detention of children and young people in circumstances that were far from safe, especially for vulnerable people”.
“It’s hard not to see the situation on Nauru as another example of the inertia of governments to deal with glaring issues of abuse,” he wrote in his weekly blog.
By Mark Bowling and Emilie Ng
*Ms McDonald’s original quotes have been changed from “vanquish” to “languish” to reflect the full meaning of her statements.