A humanitarian crisis is unfolding on Manus Island following the closure of the Australian funded immigration detention centre on 31 October 2017. Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen is the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference spokesperson on asylum seekers and refugees. He made the following statement on 3 November. Bishop Long’s Statement “The safety and well-being of over 600 asylum seekers on Manus Island are at risk following the closure of the regional processing centre. These men, most of whom are proven refugees were held in mandatory and indefinite detention under an agreement between the Australian and PNG Governments. Now after more than four years, this agreement has not worked. It has failed to provide welfare and safety to the detainees. Furthermore, very few have been resettled elsewhere. Australia, which authorised the detention of these asylum seekers in the first place, cannot abrogate its responsibility. The situation on Manus Island is turning into a humanitarian disaster and it is a direct result of our governments’ failed policy. As a nation that prides itself on its respect for the rule of law and its globally responsible citizenship, we must find a workable and principled solution. It is time for us to deal with the issue of asylum seekers and refugees according to this nation’s proud tradition and the best nature of its citizens. We can do a whole lot better, just as we did welcome “those who’ve come across the seas” after the wars in Europe and in Southeast Asia. The concern for maritime border security does not have to make us into a mean-spirited people. This is not who our First Peoples are, nor should it be the characterisation of all Australians today. The policy of offshore detention has cost Australia dearly. But it has cost the detainees and their families even more. I appeal to the government and political leaders to act in accordance with our honourable tradition. It is time to find an alternative and unconscionable solution, including accepting New Zealand’s offer of resettlement and bringing the remaining detainees on Manus Island to Australia. Those who are not refugees can be held here in secure detention until they are returned home. Those refugees accepted for entry to the US can migrate when their vetting processes are complete. The other refugees need to be able get on with their lives here in safety. People seeking asylum are some of the most vulnerable members of our global community. It is imperative that they are treated humanely and with dignity. I urge the Australian Government to honour its international obligations, and continue its work within the region and with non-government organisations to ensure the safety of those seeking asylum.” Source: https://parracatholic.org/closure-of-manus-island-regional-processing-centre/ More on Catholic Social Teaching Concerning Asylum Seekers & Refugees The basic teachings concerning refugees are explained here. Teachings concerning migration are explored here.
In a 7 November 2016 statement Bishop Vincent Long calls on Australians to reject cruel refugee measures proposed by Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull and Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton. They intend to introduce legislation banning refugees and asylum seekers who have arrived in Australia by boat from 19 July 2013 onwards from ever being able to apply for a visa to Australia. The proposed legislation would apply even to those found to be bona fide refugees. He called the move “deeply disappointing.” Bishop Vincent Long is the Australian Catholic Bishops’ Delegate for Refugees. Bishop Long reminds the Australian community that: “Seeking asylum even by boat is not illegal. It is a basic human right. Yet not content with demeaning them, the Australian government now want to introduce laws that will ban them from ever coming here.” A former boat person himself, Bishop Long appealed “to all political leaders to resist this latest mean-spirited move against asylum seekers and to reclaim the reputation of a decent, humane and generous country; it is the kind of country that refugees like myself are indebted to and proud to call home.” Full Statement on Proposed Refugee Measures Read the full text of Bishop Long’s statement here.
In a 13 October 2016 statement the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference calls on the Australian government to bring asylum seekers held on Nauru and Manus Island to Australia. Conference President, Archbishop Hart, got behind the Bring Them Here campaign: We endorse the campaign to Bring Them Here to Australia. We pledge the help of our Catholic communities and institutions to welcome and support these refugees when they arrive, including Catholic health, education and social services. The Bishops point out that far fewer asylum seekers arrive directly in Australia than in other nations. They express shame at “the expulsion and harsh treatment of the people who sought our protection only to be detained on Nauru and Manus Island.” Furthermore they draw attention to the appalling conditions under which asylum seekers live, lamenting “the effects on their health, spirits and self-respect.” How to Help Bring Them Here The Bishops ask Catholics in Australia who want to help to contact the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum, which brings together Catholic peak bodies across education, health, welfare, and the broader church along with key national Catholic organisations. Read the Full Statement The full statement is available here.
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) has issued a statement urging Catholics to consider how they will vote in the Federal Election 2016. In it they pick up Pope Francis’ expression “thrown away people” highlighting the experiences of Indigenous Australians asylum seekers and refugees survivors of sexual abuse those who suffer family violence those in the womb the elderly those suffering mental illness those suffering addiction those entrapped in new forms of slavery and the desperately poor beyond our shores who look to us for help. Members of each of these groups have been “thrown away” or disregarded by Australian society and lack a loud voice in election debates. Catholics are urged to prayerfully listen to their needs and that of creation in considering how to vote. ACBC Statement for Election 2016 The four page statement is called A Vote for the Voiceless. It can be downloaded here.
Causes of Trafficking In a submission to the Australian Government’s Parliamentary Joint Committee on Law Enforcement, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference say that human trafficking and slavery are the terrible consequence of economic and social exclusion, where: • We don’t recognise the human dignity of each person, so people are treated as an object or a means to an end • People are in poverty and don’t have access to adequate education or employment • We put money and not people at the centre of the economy, or • There is conflict and violence and people are forced to emigrate putting themselves at greater risk of falling victim to trafficking. Recommended Action The Bishops say that they would like there to be: • More work on documenting the problem, so there is detailed statistical estimate of the extent of human trafficking in Australia • Promotion of slavery-free supply chains, through improved industry accountability and consumer awareness • Continuation of the ACRATH program to provide curriculum materials to schools informing students about forced marriage, their legal rights and where they can go for help if needed, and • More funds for Australia’s aid program, so we can assist people in third world nations out of poverty and away from the risk of human trafficking. Read the Submission Read the full text of the submission here.
Bishop Vincent Long responded on behalf of the Australian Catholic Bishops to a High Court finding on 3 February 2016 that the offshore processing of the refugee status claims of asylum seekers is not contrary to Australian law. He called for compassion and mercy for families currently in Australia who are threatened with return to offshore processing centres, asking the Australian Government to focus on protecting these vulnerable people from harm and respecting their dignity. Bishop Long is the Chair of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council and the Bishops Conference’s spokesperson on refugees. He said: “I urge the Australian Government to ensure that no child is subject to an unsafe and harmful environment and that no-one is returned to where they may face physical, psychological and sexual violence and harm.” “The Catholic Church opposes mandatory detention and offshore detention because these policy responses do not respect the dignity of people seeking our help.” Read the full statement here.
Archbishop Denis Hart, President of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference offered condolences and deep sympathy for the victims of terror attacks in France. He called for unity among cultures and expressed special concern that Australians of Middle Eastern backgrounds should not be vilified as a result of the attacks. He noted that millions of Syrians and Iraqis are fleeing similar atrocities by IS and that Australia should not close its borders to them. Speaking on behalf of the Australian Bishops, Archbishop Hart said that “acts of terrorism can never be allowed to divide communities through fear and hatred”. He urged Australians to “resist calls to close our borders to refugees from the Middle East.” He joined prayer for Paris with prayer “for the millions of Syrian and Iraqi refugees fleeing similar atrocities by Islamic State against Christian and other minorities.” Archbishop Hart concluded his message with a call for unity: “Here in Australia, we pray for a continued national resolve to assist refugees fleeing this violence and oppression. We pray for unity among all cultures of our diverse Australian community, and call for a special concern to ensure that Australians of Middle Eastern background and Muslims are not subject to intimidation or vilification as a result of these tragic world events.” See the full text