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Calls for justice and compassion for detainees on Manus Island

 For updates on the situation on Manus Island, and other refugee news,  go to the Andrew and Renata Kaldor Centre for International Refugee Law at the University of New South Wales. 
Bishop Vincent Long, the representative of the Australian Catholic Bishops for migrants and refugees,  made the following statement on 3 November 2017:
"The safety and wellbeing of over 600 asylum-seekers on Manus Island are at risk following the closure of the regional processing centre. These men, most of whom are proven refugees, were held in mandatory and indefinite detention under an agreement between the Australian and PNG governments.

Now after more than four years, this agreement has not worked. It has failed to provide welfare and safety to the detainees. Furthermore, very few have been resettled elsewhere.

Australia, which authorised the detention of these asylum-seekers in the first place, cannot abrogate its responsibility. The situation on Manus Island is turning into a humanitarian disaster and it is a direct result of our governments’ failed policy.

As a nation that prides itself on its respect for the rule of law and its globally responsible citizenship, we must find a workable and principled solution.

It is time for us to deal with the issue of asylum-seekers and refugees according to this nation’s proud tradition and the best nature of its citizens.

We can do a whole lot better, just as we did welcome “those who’ve come across the seas” after the wars in Europe and in Southeast Asia. The concern for maritime border security does not have to make us into a mean-spirited people. This is not who our First Peoples are, nor should it be the characterisation of all Australians today.

The policy of offshore detention has cost Australia dearly. But it has cost the detainees and their families even more. I appeal to the government and political leaders to act in accordance with our honourable tradition.

It is time to find an alternative and conscionable solution, including accepting New Zealand’s offer of resettlement and bringing the remaining detainees on Manus Island to Australia."

And here is an earlier statement and call to action from Catholic agencies:
 A week after the official closure of the Manus Island detention centre, more than 600 refugees and people seeking asylum languish inside, unsafe and uncertain about their futures.

After forcibly transferring the men to Manus Island in 2013-2014, the Australian government and its sub-contractors have now abandoned the centre and the island, leaving vulnerable people seeking asylum without access to medical care, psychiatric treatment, food, water, or electricity.

Our government has failed to provide these men with any safe alternatives. The UNHCR has condemned alternative accommodation in Lorengau as unsuitable and unfinished. Human Rights Watch is the latest of several international organisations reporting on locals assaulting and robbing refugees across the island with local police making little effort to investigate these crimes. People in the centre have been subject to multiple attacks over the years, one of which caused the death of Reza Barati in 2014.

Australia’s offer to relocate refugees in PNG to Nauru is no solution at all given the environment there is similarly beset by crippling uncertainty, epidemic rates of attempted suicide and mental illness, physical health ailments, well documented incidents of sexual and physical abuse, and the absence of critical infrastructure across the island.  Unlike PNG, Nauru has never undertaken to provide permanent settlement for its caseload of refugees; with a population of only 10,000, it can’t.

The US resettlement deal appears to be stagnating and the Australian government continues to refuse New Zealand’s offer to resettle 150 recognised refugees.
We Australians have a humanitarian crisis on our doorstep in Manus Island.  It’s our fault and we should do something about it right now.

Catholic Social Services Australia, Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA), Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia and Jesuit Social Services (JSS) jointly declare:

* The men on Manus Island have the right to food, water and shelter; to freedom and liberty; to be free from inhumane and degrading treatment; and to seek and receive protection.
* The Australian Government is legally and morally responsible for the lives of these men who have been arbitrarily and indefinitely held in limbo for more than four years.
* The only humane resolution to the current impasse is for the Australian Government to bring every refugee and person seeking asylum on Manus Island to Australia where they can be permanently resettled or have their claims processed in safety and with dignity.
* Offshore processing for the purposes of deterrence, whether in PNG, Nauru or anywhere else, is inhumane and unsustainable, and must cease to be a part of any Australian policy.

We urge all Australians to express their concern for the desperate circumstances of the men on Manus Island by contacting your local federal MP to demand an immediate change to this expensive, unworkable and unprincipled policy.

Download this statement as PDF here.

Catholic Social Services Victoria acknowledges the Traditional Custodians and their Elders in each of the Communities where we work.
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