Australian clergy critical of government approach to asylum seekers

Australian clergy critical of government approach to asylum seekers

Australian church leaders are criticising a government plan to deport hundreds of asylum seekers to Malaysia as a “swap” to settle 4,000 refugees from Malaysian detention centres.

The government is funding the $292 million plan and has said force may be used to ensure asylum seekers board planes.

A High Court judge on August 7 ordered a delay in the forced transfer of the first 16 asylum seekers to Malaysia. Refugee lawyer David Manne, whose legal team team represents 40 asylum seekers, including six minors, said the injunction provided time to argue that sending asylum seekers to Malaysia is unlawful.

The Rev. Elenie Poulos, national justice director of the Uniting Church will continue to “kick up a stink” over the “shocking and morally repugnant” people-swap deal.

“We’re not going to stop now this is happening,” she said. “Boat people should be treated like the asylum seekers who come by air, and released into the community.”

Adelaide’s Anglican archbishop, Jeffrey Driver, said they should be detained, though for a limited time and only on Australian soil.

“Detention for management of health, identity and security risks should be limited to a period of one month and should never be punitive,” he said.

The Catholic Church maintains the Australian government is in breach of international obligations, calling the plan “nothing less than brutal people trafficking”.

“The core purpose of this deal is to outsource our human rights violations to one of South East Asia’s most infamous rights abusers at a cost of $95,000 per asylum seeker,” said Fr Jim Carty, a Catholic priest in Sydney.

Rod Benson, public affairs director for the New South Wales Council of Churches, said this was “not the action of a civilised, progressive democracy”.

“It’s abhorrent. We are now responsible for sending 19 children, 14 of them unaccompanied, to Malaysia, not to a detention facility but apparently out in the community where an uncertain fate awaits them.”

Of 148 signatories to the United Nations Convention and Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, only Australia mandatorily detains asylum seekers without visas.

Malaysia is not a signatory and does not offer legal domestic rights to asylum seekers.

By David Crampton, Ecumenical News International.

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