THE Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO) has affirmed its support of the Federal Government’s policy of hosting asylum seekers in the community on bridging visas and in community residence determination.
ACMRO director Scalabrinian Father Maurizio Pettenà said the agency had “great respect for the decision to increase Australia’s humanitarian intake to 20,000 each year and also believe it is appropriate for Australia to defend the right of all people to seek asylum”.
Fr Pettena’s comments followed a recent call by the Federal Opposition Immigration spokesman Scott Morrison for new behaviour protocols for asylum seekers living in the community.
Mr Morrison made the call after “an asylum seeker was charged with the indecent assault of a student in her dormitory at Macquarie University in Sydney”.
Fr Pettena said asylum seekers “are not criminals and should not be treated as such”.
“The suggestion that serious crimes committed by one asylum seekers gives grounds for treating all asylum seekers as criminals is greatly concerning,” he said.
“The hosting of asylum seekers in the community is an entirely appropriate, effective and humane way for Australia to respond.
“We have thousands of Australians who have volunteered their time to help asylum seekers and in the process have developed wonderful friendships.”
Fr Pettena said helping asylum seekers to rebuild their lives and become fully contributing members of the local community was both a joy and wonderful gift for Catholics to be a part of, because “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” (Matthew 25:40)
“The fact remains that current policies on border control are already too tough,” he said.
“The continued use of mandatory and indefinite immigration detention have witnessed several suicides in immigration detention and countless self-harm incidents, many involving children in just the last three years alone.
“On top of this children and families continue to be detained in remote regional areas and more recently on Nauru and Manus Island under appalling conditions” he said.
“Calls for further toughening of asylum policy are incredibly disappointing because they reflect a policy of fear rather than one of welcoming and are being pursued at the expense of human dignity and the moral obligation to afford protection for the most vulnerable.”
Meanwhile, the Edmund Rice Centre for Justice and Community Education has hit out at Australian politicians for “lowest common denominator politicking”.
Centre director Phil Glendenning said one of the issues that both sides of politics were guilty of at the moment was “a race to the bottom” in terms of asylum-seeker policy.
He said a new low was reached with Mr Morrison’s call for new behaviour protocols for asylum seekers living in the community.
Mr Glendenning said Australia already had a behaviour protocol.
“It’s called the law and it works,” he said.
Mr Glendenning said Australians were fundamentally decent people and did not need policy based in fear and race when dealing with some of the most vulnerable people on the planet.