The Uniting Church in Australia believes that there is little reason to be anxious about boat arrivals and more reason to be anxious about the continuing use of traumatised people to score political points in an election year.
Rev Alistair Macrae, President of the Uniting Church in Australia, said, “We are very pleased to hear the Prime Minister speak the truth – that the percentage of the world’s refugees that come to Australia can only be described as tiny. We call on Ms Gillard to do even more to dispel the myths and scaremongering.
“The Government and the Opposition must stop playing off asylum seekers who arrive by boat against people who make their protection claims offshore.
“We are talking about people who are coming to Australia for a ‘fair go’. They are not ‘queue jumpers’, ‘illegals’ or ‘boat people’ – they are human beings.”
Mr Macrae also expressed the Church’s concern about the possibility of offshore processing in Timor Leste and said he looked forward to a more detailed explanation of their intentions from the Government.
“A Timor Sea version of the Pacific Solution would be contrary to any claims the Government makes about its commitment to treat people humanely. We do encourage continued conversations with the UNHCR to ensure Australia sets a high standard in meeting its obligations under the Refugee Convention,” said Mr Macrae.
“We are encouraged by the lifting of the suspension of processing for Sri Lankan asylum seekers, and we urge the Government to reconsider the continuing suspension of claim processing for Afghan asylum seekers, who are now in an unacceptable situation of indefinite, mandatory detention.”
The Uniting Church has roundly condemned the Opposition’s policy proposals, especially the deeply disturbing plan to turn back asylum seeker boats.
“The Opposition utterly fails to recognise the dire situations of persecution and conflict that cause people to flee. These backwards policies are callous and punitive and will inflict further harm on already traumatised people.
“They are dangerous policies that seek to exempt Australia from its legal and moral obligations to act as a decent global citizen. Increasing the offshore resettlement program is a good move in and of itself but is no substitute for meeting our obligations under the Refugee Convention to assess the claims of those who arrive on our shores,” said Mr Macrae.