A SENIOR priest who works closely with asylum seekers in detention has called on the Prime Minister to end their incarceration.
Darwin diocese vicar general Fr Malcolm Fyfe has described harrowing conditions inside the Wickham Point detention centre on the outskirts of Darwin.
The Missionaries of the Sacred Heart priest’s plea to the Prime Minister has the backing of Darwin Bishop Eugene Hurley and four other priests who also visit the centre, which has the highest rate of self-harm among detainees in Australian immigration facilities.
In a letter addressed to Mr Turnbull, Fr Fyfe writes: “I am alarmed by the number of men, women and children whose lives have been put indefinitely on hold and who must deal with harsh conditions of detention, both within Australia and particularly offshore.”
“At the same time, I am concerned that so many human beings are being inhumanely dealt with, grievously punished, particularly in isolated and off-shore detention centres, in order to deter any more asylum seekers from attempting to come by boat to Australia,” he said.
“This is actually a classic and clear case of immorality: an evil thing is engaged in for the purpose of achieving some good outcome.
“But how far can one go inflicting suffering on some people to prevent unrelated others from acting in a certain way?”
Fr Fyfe said mental health was a major concern amongst detention detainees, a view supported by data obtained by the University of Melbourne’s Law Students for Refugees in conjunction with Fairfax Media under Freedom of Information laws.
The data revealed Wickham Point had the highest number of self-harm attempts amongst Australian immigration facilities.
There were 97 incidents in the year from August 2014 to July 2015.
Fr Fyfe said he, and the other priests who ministered to asylum seekers in Darwin, heard heart-rending stories of frustration and despair.
“They are desperate for some light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.
“If you and I were locked in a prison with no strategy to get out we would be the same.
“It’s a painful day-to-day experience.
“We are simply crucifying the people who did make it here. This is bad news all round.”
In his letter to the Prime Minister, Fr Fyfe said government policy had shaped public attitudes towards asylum seekers.
“Your Government, along with the previous Labor-led Government, has demonised them to the point that many good people in the Australian community now think of these asylum seekers as ‘illegals’, having no rights and as justly deserving the inhuman treatment being meted out to them,” he wrote.
“In reality, they are our fellow human beings, fleeing hostile and inequitable homelands, hopeful of a chance to live and flourish in a more humane and well-ordered country.
“Given the opportunity, they too would contribute to the building up of Australian society.”
In his letter, Fr Fyfe pitched his own policy proposal of deterrence and defence surveillance.
“Has not our experience over the last two-and-a-half years shown that the Australian Defence Forces are quite capable by their own resources of achieving the goal of ‘stopping the boats’ to the point that we no longer need the deterrent factor associated with our costly and inhumane detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island?” he wrote.
“Let us henceforth guard our shores by military skill and effective intelligence and discretely dismantle our off-shore detention centres, re-assuming responsibility ourselves for on-shore processing as swiftly as possible of those currently detained there.
“As regards the detainees, why not even look at the feasibility of a carefully planned, once and for all amnesty?
“What an innovative and really nimble move that would be. Our international standing would be greatly enhanced by such an act.”
By Mark Bowling