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Church agency wary about closure of detention centres

Father Maurizio Pettenà

Father Maurizio Pettenà

THE Federal Government’s decision to close four immigration detention facilities in Australia has drawn mixed reactions from the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office.
ACMRO national director Scalabrinian Father Maurizio Pettenà welcomed the decision, but questioned the fate of those not reaching Australia’s shores for asylum as a result of Government policies.

“If these people are not coming to Australia, where are they going?” he said. “Most likely they are staying in danger.”

Fr Pettenà (pictured) also called on the Government to consider increasing places available under the refugee resettlement program, which was wound back last year.

He made the comments after Federal Immigration Minister Scott Morrison on January 14 announced the closure of detention centres in Far North Queensland (Scherger), Tasmania (Pontville), Western Australia (Leonora) and South Australia (Port Augusta).

Mr Morrison said the Scherger, Port Augusta and Leonora centres would close by February.

The Pontville facility will be passed back to the Department of Defence.

The closure will lead to the transfer of more than 200 detainees to other facilities. It was claimed the closure would save the Government nearly $90 million a year.

Mr Morrison described the closure of the centres as “proof”  border protection policies had slowed boat arrivals.

Fr Pettenà said the decline in boat arrivals “is nothing to boast about if we haven’t found other ways to help people who are still in desperate need of refuge”.

“It’s not sending back the boats, but rather sending back people, often into danger,” he said.

“The Catholic Church encourages governments to implement policies which assist people seeking asylum. One of the most life-affirming and compassionate ways Australia can help is through our refugee resettlement program.

“Asylum seekers have been effectively hosted in our community for many years now which is a much more humane alternative to closed immigration detention.

“Just last year, the refugee program had 20,000 places available, but sadly this program has been severely reduced to around 13,000 places making it even harder for refugees and asylum seekers.

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