Recent Articles by the Social Justice Commission

Asylum Seekers: a way forward

(Catholic Voice 2014)

Part I

Arguments about Australia’s response to people seeking asylum have been passionate and angry, at times generating more heat than light. The Catholic Social Justice Commission (CSJC) for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn has been considering the issue. This is the first of three articles offering some thoughts based on Catholic social teaching.

The primary purpose of any policy concerning asylum seekers must be respect for the life and dignity of the human beings directly or indirectly involved. It means honestly recognising the human impact, good and bad, that the policy will have.

The CSJC cannot help but note that advocates of particular strategies tend to overstate the favourable impacts while minimising the adverse consequences of what they propose. At the same time they are prone to understate the positive elements and highlight the negative impacts of alternatives.

In developing its own position the CSJC is conscious of the need to avoid these extremes and to make proposals that are principled and practical. We therefore suggest a 10-point plan as a basis for moving to a more compassionate yet realistic response.

The first two points relate to the overall effort Australia makes in accepting refugees and other humanitarian entrants. One is that the Government should immediately restore Australia’s humanitarian intake to the levels set by its predecessor – 20,000 now rising over five years to 27,000. The other is that the Government should consider doubling the intake to 40,000, if necessary with a phase-in period of three to five years – Australia’s current contribution to the resettlement of refugees and others in need of humanitarian assistance lags behind that of many countries of comparable wealth.

Next month’s article will address the issue of people smuggling and safeguards for the rights of asylum seekers

Part II

This is the second of three articles from the Catholic Social Justice Commission (CSJC) for the Archdiocese of Canberra and Goulburn on this issue

In the first of these articles, the CSJC outlined two measures that over time would double Australia’s humanitarian intake to 40,000 a year. In this second article, we make four more suggestions, this time focused on protecting asylum seekers’ human rights.

Australia should cooperate with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and with other countries in the region, to discourage the activities of people smugglers. Governments act in concert to prevent defective aircraft from flying. In the same way they should join together to protect asylum seekers from the risks of using unsafe boats.

The means used to discourage asylum seekers from travelling here by boat should be ethical in themselves. Thus, for example, people held in detention should not have their human rights violated as a deterrent to other would-be asylum seekers.

Robust safeguards should operate in Manus Island, Nauru and any other locations where Australia establishes similar facilities. These should include a transparent process for handling complaints.

Unaccompanied minors (irrespective of their means of arrival) should be treated in accordance with the UNHCR Guidelines on Policy and Procedures for dealing with unaccompanied children seeking asylum. They should be the responsibility of the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection or a delegated State or Territory officer.

The final article to be published next month will outline the CSJC’s four other proposals

Part III

The two articles published in the last two months proposed six measures that, if adopted, would provide a more compassionate and realistic response to people seeking asylum in Australia. This last article outlines four other measures that the Archdiocese’s Catholic Social Justice Commission (CSJC) considers should be taken.

Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia by boat after the previous Government’s announcement of 19 July 2013, but had embarked before that date or up to a week after, should be treated under the rules that applied before 19 July 2013. The former group could not have been aware of the policy change before they embarked, and many of the latter group might well have been confused at best.

Asylum seekers who arrive in Australia as their first port of call, (whether by sea or air) should be processed onshore.  If they are found to be refugees, they should be granted Australian residency in accordance with Article 31 (1) of the Refugee Convention.

The Government should meet its election commitment to work with regional partners for the creation of a “comprehensive Regional Deterrence Framework” that includes an undertaking by Australia to double its humanitarian intake as specified in the first article.

Measures taken to “stop the boats” should be presented to Parliament for scrutiny. This would go some way to alleviating the widespread concern felt about the development and implementation of existing policy.

To conclude, existing policy on asylum seekers is inhumane and costly. This and the preceding two articles outline a path that the Commission considers to be more moral and realistic.