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
The Australian Catholic Bishops Conference has welcomed Pope Francis’ encyclical on the environment, Laudato Si (On the Care of Our Common Home). Archbishop Denis Hart, President of the Conference, welcomed the encyclical, saying he was pleased to see that the letter critiques our weak response to ecological and social issues: “Pope Francis calls on people to seek new ways to understand the economy, condemns our throwaway culture and dependence on technology, and is calling on people to reassess the dignity of humanity and the integrity of creation in finding solutions to the ecological crisis.” He notes that the Pope draws upon bishops’ statements from around the world, including the Australian bishops. Director of Catholic Earthcare Australia, Jacqui Remond, said Laudato Si’ is a game-changer for the Catholic community and it offers Australians a powerful moral and spiritual imperative for environmental and social action. This encyclical calls on us all to embrace a new lifestyle that respects all of creation, and asks our leaders to commit to effective global agreements. Read the media release