Moral policy needed for asylum seekers & refugees
This refugee week, Uniting Church President Stuart McMillan renewed calls for the Australian government, as well as community and faith leadership, to work towards moral policy development in regards to asylum seekers and refugees.
“There must be alternatives to public policy that seeks to punish people who have done no wrong,” said Mr. McMillan.
This comes after last week’s largest human rights settlement in Australia that saw the Federal Government agree to pay $70 million compensation to 1,905 refugees and asylum seekers that were held on Manus Island detention centre.
Psychological and physical harm endured asylum seekers as well as the Papua New Guinea’s Supreme Court ruling the offshore detention centre is illegal, has prompted the centre’s closure in October this year.
Another October deadline that looms is for the 7,500 asylum seekers currently living in Australia that have until 1 October to put through applications for refugee protection status in Australia.
Before this deadline asylum seekers had wait to be formally invited submit their applications and many are still waiting for legal assistance to complete this 40-page English document that can take over 10 hours to complete.
Mr McMillan expressed disdain at this deadline and the Immigration Minister Peter Dutton who called the asylum seekers yet to submit applications as ‘fake refugees’.
“Demeaning and demonising, asylum seekers is not appropriate from a Government Minister, particularly the one who has direct responsibility for the welfare of all immigrants.
“It is incredibly cruel and unfair to expect these vulnerable people to undergo this process in a limited time frame with limited access to legal assistance,” said Mr. McMillan
Uniting Church members and congregations have been active and vocal when it comes to championing the rights of refugees and asylum seekers.
One such initiative is Balmain Uniting’s Balmain for Refugees (BFR), which formed in 2002 after the Tampa crisis. Since then BFR, through the tireless work of members and volunteers has provided assistance to asylum seekers helping with protection visa applications and appeals as well as referring asylum seekers to appropriate legal advisors.
Coordinator of BFR, Susan Meyer said the application deadline has increased the pressure on already stretched assistance and legal services as well as the extremely vulnerable asylum seekers.
Addressing Mr Dutton’s remarks, Ms Meyer compared it to President Trump’s rhetoric, which she says fuels anti-immigration and anti-refugee sentiments in society.
“What is absolutely unfair and dishonest is to imply in any way whatsoever that these people had a choice,” said Ms Meyer.
Mr McMillan stated that rather it was Australian society, government and people of faith who can do better.
“Asylum seekers fleeing from persecution deserve to have their claims for refugee status processed fairly while they reside in Australia. We continue to call for an increase in the humanitarian intake of refugees to 60, 000.
“We will also continue advocating for policies which are humane and which uphold people’s rights and their fundamental human dignity.” said Mr. McMillan.
Read the 2015 Uniting Church in Australia Shelter from the Storm statement regarding offshore detention here.
Learn more about Refugee Week 18-24th June 2017.