Bearing witness to the suffering on Manus
The National Council of Churches in Australia, Act for Peace and the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has stated that they stand together to bear witness to the suffering caused by Australia’s bipartisan refugee policy in regard to offshore processing.
On the 24th November, the Papua New Guinea authorities confirmed that they had cleared the closed detention centre on Manus Island, bussing all the remaining 328 men to new camps.
This brings an end to a distressing three week standoff that saw the refugees refuse to leave the decommissioned centre, due to fear for their safety and reports of incomplete new camps.
In response The National Council of Churches in Australia, Act for Peace and the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has released the following statement:
We mourn the loss of justice for those refugees in PNG who are willing to put their own bodies in danger as the last cry of despair in the search for a safe future.
We pray for Australian Government leadership who may not have envisaged such suffering in re-enacting offshore processing, but who now cannot shy from the reality of the damage that has been done.
We stand with the Manus Island and PNG people who are facing the presumption that they are not a safe and hospitable nation and cannot be trusted to host these vulnerable men.
We plead that if the men are to remain in PNG for now, that force is not used to relocate them and that the Australian Government contributes to securing their dignity and safety.
We request that the Australian Government ensure the processing of re-settlement for these men occurs safely, swiftly and with the greatest regard to family unity.
The National Council of Churches in Australia President, Bishop Phillip Huggins, said that how Australia found itself in this situation is difficult to understand.
“Other countries face far greater challenges with hosting refugees and struggling with unexpected arrivals.
“Australia’s current situation has put enormous, unnecessary ethical pressure on all involved and needs to be resolved peacefully and swiftly,” said Mr Huggins.
During operation to clear the camp, videos emerged of PNG police using physical force to move refugees including beating the men with batons. Iranian journalist and refugee Behrouz Boochani, who was one of the men refusing to leave the camp, was also arrested but eventually released by police.
The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce Chair, the Very Rev’d Dr Peter Catt acknowledged that PNG has concerns for its own community.
“For the context on Manus Island we recognise this is not the fault of the refugees, the PNG locals or their Government.
“Australia wanted a quick fix to a situation which has turned into a protracted and harmful experience for many,” said Rev. Dr Catt.
The Uniting Church in Australia President, Stuart McMillan, reiterated that it was the Federal Government that needed to take moral leadership and to process refugees on Australian shores.
“Haven’t these people suffered enough? After all this time, is it still impossible for the Federal Government to show some compassion and bring them here?
“As Christians, we believe all people should be treated with respect. The parable of the Good Samaritan is just one bible story that illustrates the Christian ethic of caring and sheltering people in their time of need, ”said Mr McMillan.
Mr McMillan stated that the Uniting Church stands together with the faith communities who are calling, “for a long-term humanitarian solution that upholds the dignity of these vulnerable people.”
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