By Vanessa Kairies
Is Tony really a good Catholic? I often wonder how he sleeps at night, because there is such hypocrisy between his attitude and policies towards asylum seekers and the morals and principles of Catholicism.
He calls people fleeing war and persecution ‘illegal immigrants’. According to the UNHCR, it is legal to seek asylum in Australia, even if you arrive on a boat without a visa. Yes, seeking asylum is a legal right under Australian and international law, and it is against the law for governments to punish asylum seekers no matter how they get here.
Asylum seekers are not breaking the law even if they arrive by boat. For 99 per cent of people who need protection, seeking asylum in another country is their only choice. Resettlement through the UN is only available for a very small group.
Here is one Catholic who thinks differently to Tony Abbott. On Monday, 10th August, Pope Francis branded the rejection of migrants as an ‘act of war.’ Speaking to a youth group, the Pope said the situation where desperate migrants were bounced from country to country seeking shelter was “an unresolved conflict … and this is war, this is violence, it’s called murder”.
‘Murder’. Strong words from the Pope.
Take heed, Tony.
Will Tony make a comeback to disrepute the Pope like that which occurred to Gillian Triggs?
The UNHCR and its reports on Christmas Island, Manus Island and Nauru were so damning to the government that Tony Abbott and George Brandis tried to destroy Triggs. (You can read more about the UNHCR report here).
Nearly 60 million people were forcibly displaced across the world by conflicts in 2014 (either within their own countries, or to other nations as refugees). It is the highest number ever recorded, according to a report by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), and equivalent to the population of Italy. Driven mainly by the war in Syria, the advance of IS in Iraq and resurgent conflicts in Africa.
Australia is kidding itself if it thinks turning back the boats is going to stop the asylum seekers from seeking refuge in Australia.
Under International law, it is Australia’s duty of care to take these people in, not ship them off to another country where their human rights are abused. The whole out-of mind, out of sight mentality is appalling. The introduction of ‘The border force protection act’ borders on criminal.
Let’s take a look at what happens inside the detention centres that are set up by our government.
Detention centre number one: Christmas Island
In 2001 temporary facilities for asylum seekers were established on Christmas Island.
There have been many reports about the inhumane conditions for the people living in this facility, with documented situations of people sewing their lips together, hungers strikes and severe mental health conditions resulting from incarceration. Self-harm and suicide attempts are common.
On the 26th August 2014, a class action was filed in the Supreme Court of Victoria by law firm Maurice Blackburn on behalf of a six year old girl against the Australian Government, claiming negligence in providing health care for Christmas Island detainees. The girl claims to have developed a dental infection, stammer, separation anxiety and had begun wetting her bed while detained on Christmas Island for over a year. If successful the claim could provide potential redress for over a thousand asylum seekers.
Detention Centre number 2: Nauru
Foreigners continued to govern Nauru until 1968. It was mined for phosphate and the island was eventually depleted of its resources. In a terrible indictment of its own stewardship, the government of Australia declared Nauru uninhabitable and offered to resettle the population on a deserted island off the coast of Queensland.
‘Uninhabitable’, the governments own words. What do they do? Open up another detention centre.
In 2001 the President of Nauru, René Harris, and Australia’s then-Minister for Defence, Peter Reith signed an agreement to establish the ‘prison camp’.
The conditions at the Nauru detention centre were initially described as harsh with only basic health facilities being provided.
In 2002, detainees deplored the water shortages and overcrowded conditions.There were only very limited education services for children.
An overwhelming sense of despair has been repeatedly expressed by detainees because of the uncertainty of their situation and their remoteness from loved ones.There have been multiple cases of self harm, hunger strikes and attempted suicide.
In 2013, a nurse described the detention centre as ‘like a concentration camp’.
In 2015, several staff members from the detention centre wrote an open letter claiming that multiple instances of sexual abuse against women and children had occurred. The letter claimed that the Australian government had been aware of these abuses for over 18 months. This letter added weight to the Moss Review which found it possible that “guards had traded marijuana for sexual favours with asylum seeker children”.
Sydney paediatrician David Isaacs, who worked in Nauru late last year, said “an offshore detention centre was one of the hardest places to protect children, and Australia was failing … The evidence about Nauru is consistently that children are not safe. We have the Moss report to prove it, but the government consistently denies it”.
Detention centre number 3: Manus Island
Same story, different location.
This time, there have been deaths in the complex with one detainee being bashed to death and the other dying from an infection to his foot which was not medically treated.
Three security guards working for Transfield Services, contracted by the Australian government to run the Manus Island asylum seeker detention centre, have been accused of raping a female worker at the centre.
Centre staff hampered the Manus rape investigation, initially refusing to hand over reports on the sexual assault. The three men were then flown away from the country before the police could arrest them.
More asylum seekers have died here than have been resettled.
Detention number number 4: Cambodia
These detention centres have been such a success in the government’s eyes that they have spent millions setting up another detention centre in Cambodia. This one was clouded in secrecy.
One of Abbott’s long-time friend’s and confidants, Australian Jesuit priest Father Mick Kelly, has said:
“The way the Australian cabinet is treating people seeking asylum and those who are subsequently granted refugee status is both against international law and the teaching of the Catholic Church and every other Christian church I know of. Those who call themselves Christians in this cabinet and this Parliament will know, if they are true to themselves and their beliefs, that what they are doing is wrong”.
“I have known Tony Abbott for 35 years; we are friends and share Catholic convictions and allegiance. But I am disappointed and frankly puzzled at this path he has taken. It seems to me to be about not much more than power. The agreement between the Australian government and Cambodia not only rightly offends the ordinary Australian sense of fairness. What could possibly be seen as fair in sending a group of people desperate enough to take their lives in their hands and flee their homeland only to have the people that receive them pack them off to a country known for its abusive treatment of its own citizens?”
I feel dismayed
Last year, when talking about marriage reform, Bill Shorten said this.
“No faith, no religion, no set of beliefs should ever be used as an instrument of division or exclusion”.
“Freedom of worship does not mean freedom to vilify”.
“These prejudices do not reflect the Christian values I believe in”.
“These attitudes send a message that Christianity is incompatible with modern life”.
“The current laws in Australia are discriminatory, and it was time they were changed”.
Bill doesn’t appear to have the same convictions when it comes to the asylum seekers.
I am one of many swinging voters in this country.
The Labor Party have backed the Liberal party policies regarding this issue.
They have lost my vote. They have failed.
There is no longer any division between the two major parties.
I will not be silenced on this and the other atrocities happening in Australia.
Call me a whistleblower, Tony. Lock me up and throw away the key. It is a cause I would happily be jailed for.
Note from author:
For more of my views on the asylum seeker issue, please see my cartoons: