Church Calls for New Vision for Refugees

23 September 2004

The Uniting Church today said that Australia's asylum seeker deterrence policies have failed because they have not addressed the causes of refugee flows and they have institutionalised violence against vulnerable people.

Despite the decrease in numbers of unauthorised asylum seekers reaching Australia's shores, around ten and a half million refugees, one million asylum seekers, 20-25 million internally displaced people, and up to nine million stateless people remain as an "undeterred" global humanitarian concern.

Uniting Church President, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton said that policies focusing on our security have been pushed by both major parties to the detriment of policies that address the real need for justice for refugees and displaced people world-wide.

"By increasing funding to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, providing direct assistance to countries with large populations of displaced people and increasing the number of places for resettlement of refugees and others of humanitarian concern, we can help bring about global solutions so that displaced people are not forced to risk their lives with people smugglers," said Rev. Drayton.

Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director, UnitingJustice said that the Uniting Church believes Australia must do all it can to support programs which encourage respect for human rights world-wide, overcome racial, religious, and ethnic tensions, alleviate poverty and reduce debt, resolve conflict through non-violent means and assist local peace-building, and build capacity and effective governance.

"Programs like these are what will make a difference in the long-term to truly deter refugee flows," said Rev. Poulos.

"As well as doing our fair share internationally, we must stop the violence being perpetrated on refugees by our domestic policies.

"The Uniting Church has been calling for change to asylum seeker and refugee policies for many years. We now call on both major parties to reverse the migration zone excisions and end offshore processing, implement a community release scheme for asylum seekers who arrive unauthorised, provide adequate care and support for asylum seekers and refugees in the community, provide permanent protection to all refugees, and introduce complementary protection for asylum seekers who have non-refugee protection claims.

"We must have strong leadership to turn the debate and the policies around. It is time for a braver and gentler Australia. It is time to end the punishment of victims and commit to long-term global solutions," Rev. Poulos said.