Catholic Bishops Commission Calls For End to Detention of Asylum Seekers

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The Catholic Bishops commission for Justice, Ecology and Development asked all political parties to work together in a common approach to asylum seekers during Australia Day. The commission asserted that human beings are being used as pawns in a political game of cat and mouse.

Four of the Bishops who signed the statement minister directly to asylum seekers in immigration detention centres in their dioceses.

“The fact is that the vast majority of asylum seekers held in these detention centres will be found to be refugees, and as such they have a perfect right to be here. That is clear. The real problem is the way we respond as a community. I know so many of these women, men and families. What I have learned is that I should never judge until I know their story and when I’ve heard their story, then compassion is all I feel.”

– Bishop Eugene Hurley of Darwin

A poignant comment, the way we as community react to asylum seekers does make a difference. If we the voters can sway political decisions by listening to those who are in direct daily contact with people being held in detention, then we should listen before we judge.

Bishop Gregory O’Kelly SJ of Port Pirie also said that in Port Augusta, thirty young people have been in detention for 12 months. The secondary school age minors have not been permitted to attend school.

They are taught English for one hour a day. Apart from that hour, there is only occasional activity to occupy them. Imagine how harmful the tedium is to growing young spirits. Despite a letter issued by the minister last September, even though the minors are catholic they are not permitted to attend the nearby catholic school. We know that no parent and no politician would want their own children to undergo such a regime for so long.

An Eminent psychiatrist and former Australian of the year recently described detention facilities as “factories for producing mental illness.” The evidence of that statement is all around in the media with instances of self harm and suicide by young detainees and adults. The mass protests we see and read about are not about access to mobile phone cards and menu choices but are a frantic cry for help from already severely traumatised people.

“I know there is a popular rhetoric about turning the boats around. The important focus for me is not the boats but the fact that each boat is full of human beings, whose stories I do not know. This is not a legal matter but a matter of human rights, indeed a matter of morality. I pray that we might embrace these people as so many of our forebears were welcomed. This is the tradition that has made us great and proud to be Australian. We call on all politicians and agencies of government to treat this as a humanitarian issue rather than a political one.”

– Bishop Hurley

Bishop Christoher Saunders of Broome visits the remote Curtin immigration detention center in Derby on a regular basis. He stated that the self harm and suicides they have witnessed over the years show that the harsh conditions in detention centers do not ensure safe and secure environments.

“Detention of asylum seekers add to the trauma already experienced by people fleeing war, violence and persecution. A wide range of health experts and practitioners have identified prolonged and indefinite detention as a major factor in the onset and exacerbation of mental illness, detention should be only to establish asylum seekers’ identities and to ensure that they are not a threat to Australia’s health or security, these checks should take no longer than three months.”

– Bishop Hurley

Most asylum seekers are in detention for over a year.

signed by:

Most Rev Adrian Doyle AM, Archbishop of Hobart

Most Rev Christopher Saunders, Bishop of Broome

Most Rev Eugene Hurley, Bishop of Darwin

Most Rev Julian Porteous, Auxillary Bishop of Sydney

Most Rev Gregory O’Kelly SJ AM, Bishop of Port Pirie

Fiona Hammond is a journalist who graduated from the John Morris journalism academy. Fiona lives on the south coast of NSW Australia and writes human interest stories and opinions, about gardening, sustainability, fishing, the environment and our planet.