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Lives are at Stake: mandatory detention must end

THE UNITING CHURCH in Australia has called on the Australian Government to urgently review the policy of the mandatory detention of asylum seekers.

The Director of UnitingJustice Australia, the Uniting Church’s national justice agency, Rev. Elenie Poulos said, “The tragic events at Villawood Detention Centre this week are a stark reminder of what the Government knows to be true: the prolonged mandatory detention of asylum seekers compounds the suffering of people who have already endured considerable mental and physical trauma.

“Deteriorating conditions for asylum seekers on Christmas Island, in Darwin and Curtin and in alternative places of detention, are an indication that quick action needs to be taken. Radical change is necessary if we are to avoid a re-run of the post-Tampa horrors of Port Hedland, Curtin at its worst, Baxter, Nauru and Manus Island,” said Rev. Poulos.

The Uniting Church in Australia has for many years been calling on successive governments to end the policy of mandatory detention for those who arrive by boat and commit fully to onshore processing.

Rev. Poulos said, “Instead of expanding the failed paradigm of detention facilities and offshore processing, just a small proportion of that money could fund alternative programs which allow asylum seekers – after health, security and identity checks have been done – to reside peacefully in the community while their claims for refugee protection are assessed. This is the current practice for those who arrive by air and then claim asylum.

“We have been pleased to hear the new Minister for Immigration, Chris Bowen, speak plainly about the complex, global situation of asylum seekers and the very small numbers who come to Australia compared with other countries”, said Rev. Poulos.

“We urge the Government to continue this move away from using asylum seekers to score cheap political points and call on the Opposition to do the same – the sloganeering must stop. As has always been the case, people’s lives are at stake.”

“In particular we encourage the Government and the Department of Immigration to bring this openness to the complexity of conflict and post-conflict situations to the situation facing Tamils in Sri Lanka and asylum seekers from Afghanistan. One sign of a civilised country is that we do all we can to ensure that people are not being deported to life-threatening situations. Surely if these were our own families we’d want a government erring on the side of caution.”

Rev. Poulos said, “The Uniting Church calls on the Government to take a stand for justice and decency. It is time to show the world that Australia is ready to stop demonising asylum seekers and prepared to do our bit to care for our neighbours in need.”