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Australia has a duty of care towards asylum seekers

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:

Planet of the Apes

Have a heart


The Hypocrite


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  1. paul walter

    Here is an article from today’s Grauniad:

    Fairfax have put up several stories on Mojgan Shamsalipoor also.

    I’m not a “soft centre”, but this story has had me physically weeping.

    It is a story that reveals everything wrong with the current set up, most of all when it is in the hands of virtual children who get their kicks pulling the wings off small creatures.

  2. Itsazoosue

    Thank you, Vanessa, for a great but harrowing read. This issue weighs heavily on my heart. I myself have puzzled how Tony Abbott can reconcile his Catholicism wth his treatment of asylum seekers. May the full weight of the International Criminal Court fall upon him.

  3. Robert Parker

    Abbott reminds me of a long gone pseudo Catholic Bob Santamaria. He once had a TV show entitled “Point of View”. Originally the show was about listing those “CATHOLICS WHOSE ORTHODOXY WAS BEYOND QUESTION”. Anyone not on the list was condemned as a “fellow traveller” ie suspected of communist sympathies. Initially there were 2 Catholics on the list, Bob himself and His Holiness the Pope. Then came the last Federal election campaign led by Arthur Calwell, himself a Catholic. During this campaign, the Catholic Bishops of Capricornia (Rockhampton), Sandhurst (Bendigo) and Sale (Sale) delivered an edict claiming that any Catholic who voted for Labor would be condemned to Hell for all Eternity (plus the following long weekend I think).
    In the midst of all this His Holiness awarded Arthur Calwell a Papal Knighthood.
    The consequence of this was that His Holiness was dropped from the list of “CATHOLICS WHOSE ORTHODOXY WAS BEYOND QUESTION”.

    So what should the guy who is now the recipient of the “King George III Trophy”(1) do. I think his only reasonable action would be to excommunicate the Pope.

    Note1. The King George III Trophy is awarded to those who demonstrate that they actually are the biggest lunatics to lead an English speaking nation. Initially it was jointly held by Maggie Thatcher and Ronnie Regan, then George Dubyah Bush and now by our very own Tony.

  4. kerri

    I can’t tell if you are being sarcastic Robert Parker but Santamaria is Abbott’s hero and inspiration!!

  5. Harquebus

    Do we have a duty to take on the oppressors and tyrants that cause people to flee in boats. I think that tackling the causes is the best way to help those that end up in detention camps.
    Why is this never considered in the hundreds of articles that I have read on this issue? Unless these problems are addressed, there will always be asylum seekers arriving on our doorstep.

  6. donwreford

    We have created the boat people, most of the first world just don’t get it.

  7. virtualnonsense

    Yes, I’m with you Harquebus on this – we hear about the asylum seekers, and how they’re apparently going to flood our shores if they’re not stopped, hence the let’s-not-talk-about-on-water-matters or else we’ll encourage more to arrive…Oh please… But why do we never hear the reasons these people are fleeing their countries? These should be the stories we hear each night on our news and in our papers. When stories from these war zones are covered, they’re merely glossed over.

    We are at a very sad time in our history.

  8. silkworm

    What is a good Catholic? Does a good Catholic support or condemn marriage equality? Does a good Catholic support or condemn a woman’s right to choose? Does a good Catholic support or condemn the use of condoms and other forms of contraception?

  9. paul walter

    Re Harquebus, I think a major problem in getting people to accept even limited flows of refugees has been the understanding that refugees from war as well as people trying to escape from regions of dire poverty represent a flow of displaced, miserable humanity that is eventually defined in the millions as to numbers THAT SHOWS NO SIGN OF ABATEMENT, DUE TO THE WAY INTERNATIONAL POLITICS IS DONE BY THE OLIGARCHY.

    People have backed off, because they know people like Dick Cheney and Rupert Murdoch and others even more significant behind the scenes in the big Western political and financial centres have no intention of ceasing resource wars or ceasing driving captive nations into armed resistance because of economic exploitation. Órdinary people won’t make sacrifices because they know that those who can, most of all, won’t.

    The treatment of refugees under Australian direct control ought to have been something that could have been managed completely differently. The example would be the treatment of Kossovar refugees (before the Howard government turned nasty on these and booted them out in the late 1990’s.

    The propaganda imperative to blacken the name of mid easteners during the Palestine, Afghanistan, Iraq and Iran conflicts meant that Muslim refugees in particular were assigned roles as villains, rather than victims of conflicts out of their control and this alleged intrinsic villainy became a convenient way of avoiding helping such refugees, for domestic political purposes.

    Even in the early phase, after Tampa, these refugees were villified and the cause celebre or paradigm was the vile Bahktiari saga, where a family that had shown too much ability to fit in here despite racial slurring of refugee character and intelligence, were then booted out back to Afghanistan and probable death.

    At the same time Iranis, who showed similar adaptability, were also returned to foreign torture chambers to fit with the overal themes of mid easteners as all a bad lot, to justify wars of aggression.

    The two most recent stories, involving the two Irani women, shows the influence of the paradigm.. Mojgan Shamsalipoor had lived in the community for some time and was on the verge of graduating from high school when dragged back to detention. Nazaneen Bagheri was detained and brutalised within a system devised by Australian governments as an attempt to avoid accountability for politicians (and weaken our own civil liberties set up).

    So, I go along with Vanees Kairies that Duty of Care is paramount for folk under our direct control (yes, including places like Manus!!). How much easier to have operated a humane system and had these people in the community in the limited numbers that there were of them.

    But no. The scare campaigns run to justify Western Imperialism in the Middle East and elsewhere, meant that no challenge that humanised refugees could be permitted, lest populations in targetted countries also be seen as human and conflicts like Iraq (done for the oil) benot embarked on out of sympathy for civilian populations.

    The Judenhecht type propaganda against Muslim “others” is now firmly entrenched in the minds of large sections of the public and as public and broadsheet msm further deteriorate, the ability to role back myths and correct false assumption s inculcated, has become so much the more difficult, as the likes of Triggs have discovered.

  10. Neil of Sydney

    Dear Vanassa

    How many asylum seekers would you be willing to put into your spare bedroom?

  11. The AIM Network

    Probably the same number as you, Neil.

  12. Maureen Walton (@maureen_walton)

    All these Good Christian MPs are All False. Do not have a compassionate little finger They Use God for their own purposes, not for the Good of others…

  13. MaryAnn U

    well said

  14. paul walter

    Re AIM comment and Neil.

    The next time Neil offers up something constructive at a thread will be the first.

    Ok, Neil, we know what you are saying, I’ve even thought the same thing myself. Certainly the likes of Murdoch wouldnt help, for selfish reásons.

    The emphasis, as to this post, is to the Duty of Care aspect particularly in places that are under our direct fiat. This could operate as a means to an end as to irrationality as the driving force behind refugee policy, over all, as ordinary people discover who most of these people really are.

    Refugees DO exist and I think the average aussie would be up the walls screaming hysterically within hours if the same that has happened to refugees and then had done to them in places like here after they fled, happened to them.

  15. mars08

    @Paul Walter … the average aussie whinges it the queue to buy the latest iPhone moves too slowly…

  16. paul walter

    I’ve cracked Mars.. the recent cases have been the straw that breaks the camel’s back.

    How is the public mind dragged from the cast iron grip of MSM?

    I think it is so late in the day even for this place.

  17. Pingback: Tony’s war on terror | vanessakairies

  18. Pingback: What about the defenseless Dutton? | vanessakairies

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