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Compassion, not incarceration, is a better way for refugees


Plans for a new government refugee holding facility on Christmas Island were leaked last week, prompting comparisons with the highest security prisons, and even the US facility in Guantanamo Bay, Cuba.

“If what we are hearing about the new centre on Christmas Island is true this sounds more like a prison than anything else,” said the Revd John Henderson, General Secretary of the National Council of Churches in Australia. “Why would we treat the innocent in this way? How can we add to their woes, not only locking them up but adding the moral censure of treating them like criminals? Sensible precautions for our security should not include demonising people who need our help.

"This only adds to our sense of insecurity and leads to hostility and aggression. The social and psychological effects are insidious and ongoing; not only for those who are imprisoned, but also for the society that imprisons them.”

“Our society will be judged by the way we treat those in need. Compassion and fairness are marks of a truly civilised society, upholding values of human dignity and individual worth. To hold people fleeing persecution in such intrusive, high-security conditions is inappropriate and unacceptable,” said Mr Henderson.

“These prison-like Christmas Island plans, together with Temporary Protection Visas, which are designed to promote insecurity and a sense of impermanence, contradict the promised reform spirit of greater individual care.

"What have become of the 2005 Palmer Inquiry and recent nation-wide Immigration Department community consultations on how to improve services, including community care models, for asylum seekers?”

“We would welcome genuine reassurances from the government that it does not intend to clamp down even harder on those who have already suffered severe harm. In recent times there has been a lot of talk of so-called ‘Christian values’ including by many in government.

"We would like to see such values reaffirmed in the cause of human rights and treating our neighbour as we would ourselves want to be treated,” Mr Henderson concluded.