Govt Criticised for Hard-hearted Response to Asylum Seekers

Catholic Communications, Sydney Archdiocese, 9 Mar 2011

Christmas Island Detention Centre

Bishop Christopher Saunders, chairman of the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) is dismayed at the Gillard Government’s decision to build a 1500 bed detention centre on the outskirts of Darwin.

Bishop Saunders who met with the Council in Sydney this week, describes the new detention centre as yet another example of Australia’s “hard-hearted response” to asylum seekers.

“Prolonged detention of asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat simply adds further trauma to the lives of vulnerable individuals and families – and at great cost to the Australian tax payer,” he says.

The prelate who is also Bishop of Broome and who has seen conditions inside detention centres such as those at Curtin in WA first hand, says the Government intends spending $9 million to construct the new detention centre and a further $74 million over three years for leasing the land. This, he adds, is in addition to the hundreds of millions spent on the detention of just over 6,650 asylum seekers in centres on Australia’s mainland and in its offshore and overcrowded facility on Christmas Island.

Tents needed for extra asylum seekers on Christmas Island

“Concern over the construction of yet another detention centre is not, as has been suggested by some politicians, that the government has failed to ‘stop the boats’ but rather that the Australian Government continues to incarcerate desperate people who have fled violence and persecution,” he says.

Bishop Saunders points out that the Government has useful and humane alternatives to detention including working bridging visas which would allow asylum seekers to contribute to society and be self reliant while waiting for assessment by Australia’s Department of Immigration and Citizenship.

“In 2008 the current Government committed to using detention for the shortest possible time, and only then to establish that asylum seekers posed no health or security risk. The Government promised that those posing no danger to the community, would then be able to remain in the community while their visa status was resolved. It is now time for the Government to keep that promise,” he says.

Currently the Department of Immigration and Citizenship reports that of 5235 asylum seekers, or 79 percent of those currently in detention, have been incarcerated for more than three months with the average length of detention standing at 109 days with some held for more than a year.

“These people are in need of compassion and security,” the Bishop stresses and said the time currently taken to process claims was appallingly long.Bleak, remote and off shore. Christmas Island Detention Centre

“The length of time asylum seekers are being forced to remain in detention is a sad condemnation of our moral worth as a people who pride ourselves on always preserving the spirit of fairness,” he says.

Bishop Saunders and the Australian Catholic Justice Council have joined the many other voices who have spoken out against the construction of the new detention centre 35 kms out of Darwin.

Last week Fr Jim Carty, coordinator of the Marist Asylum Seeker and Refugee Centre is also critical of the building of a new $9 million facility as well as the fact that not only are more than 6000 currently incarcerated in conditions he describes as “worse than most of Australia’s prisons” but of these more than 1000 are children.


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