CATHOLIC leaders have denounced Australia’s tough offshore detention policy as thousands of people rallied in capital cities last weekend, calling for the release of about 800 refugees and asylum seekers remaining on Manus Island and Nauru.
“As a bishop and a former boat person, I deplore the detention of our brothers and sisters,” chair of the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Commission for Social Justice: Service and Mission Bishop Vincent Long said in a statement marking the sixth anniversary of the controversial detention policy.
“Pope Francis, with whom the bishops of Australia discussed the refugee crisis at their recent Ad Limina visit in Rome, is also deeply concerned.
“Already 12 young men have died over these past six years and many more have attempted self-harm out of utter despair.
“International agencies have been appalled by the conditions under which they live and the effects on their health, spirits and self-respect.
“We call on our government and political leaders to act in accordance with our honourable tradition and put an end to a deplorable situation.”
July 19 marked six years since the Labor Government under then prime minister Kevin Rudd reintroduced offshore detention for asylum seekers who arrived by boat.
At a rally in Brisbane, refugee Shaminda Kanapathi, who has been on Manus Island since 2013, addressed supporters via video link.
“Even the most intimate decisions are made for us,” Mr Kanapathi told the news service AAP.
“Our lives have stopped. And every minute passes, as we have lost six years already.”
Fr Gerry Hefferan, from Brisbane’s St Joseph and St Anthony parish, Bracken Ridge, home to newly-arrived humanitarian refugees from the strife-torn Middle East, said offshore detention “has not been a success”.
“The mental health issues have been incredibly severe … akin to torture, what some have suffered,” Fr Hefferan said.
“We just don’t understand what people are going through.
“We have a society where we are in instant news, instant checking, and then we move on to the next thing.
“We need to respond in depth to people.”
Bishop Long said it was time to find an alternative and conscionable solution.
“It is time to bring them here or to New Zealand, which has offered a helping hand,” he said.
“Those refugees accepted for entry to the US could then migrate when their vetting processes are complete.
“The other refugees should then be able get on with their lives here in safety.
“Those who are not refugees can be held here in secure detention until they are returned home.”
Darwin diocesan vicar general Fr Malcolm Fyfe wrote to all Federal politicians calling for an amnesty for detainees still on Manus Island and Nauru.
“Our international standing would be greatly enhanced by such an act,” he wrote.
“Our elected leaders simply take cover behind a Jericho Wall of total secrecy regarding Operation Sovereign Borders, the treatment of persons intercepted at sea and those in immigration detention centres generally.
“Tragically … the incidence of self-harm in detention centres has risen to epidemic levels.”
Fr Fyfe ended his letter to politicians with words from a prayer of St Francis: “It is in pardoning that we are pardoned”.
Papua New Guinea’s prime minister is pressing for a timetable to end asylum-seeker processing and get those who were detained off Manus Island.
Making his first visit to Canberra as PM last week, James Marape called for a “mutually workable” timetable to wrap up Australia’s offshore processing regime.
“Both governments will both work in bringing this to a conclusion which is mutually beneficial,” Mr Marape said during a joint media conference standing alongside Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
He said the refugees should be resettled, while those asylum seekers refused refugee status should leave PNG and return to their home countries or elsewhere.
The poor health of asylum seekers on Nauru and Manus Island was again highlighted by the release of a new health report containing the number of visits made to medical centres each month.
The report by the Independent Health Assessment Panel provided a grim health prognosis: during the first three months of this year, nearly 6000 consultations were provided for 237 refugees and asylum seekers at the Nauru Regional Processing Centre medical centre.
More than 40 were admitted for treatment, predominantly for mental health concerns.
On Manus Island, nearly 2000 consultations were provided to asylum seekers and refugees, resulting in 17 individuals being admitted.