Church Condemns Govt Abuse of Bakhtiari Family

22 July 2002

The Uniting Church in Australia believes that the Federal Government's response to the situation of the Bakhtiari family is cruel and inhumane.

A meeting of the Church's National Assembly Standing Committee yesterday (Sunday 21 July) expressed grave concern and dismay at the Government's unwillingness to put the welfare of children before its harsh and unforgiving policies.

The President of the Uniting Church, Rev Professor James Haire said, "We are extremely concerned about the use and abuse of vulnerable people, particularly children, to score political points.

"It is morally reprehensible for the Government to be using and abusing children in order to prove the strength of their commitment to their policies.

"As the Government itself has demonstrated by excising areas of our country from our migration zone, it is possible to make exceptions when necessary.

"The Uniting Church in Australia believes that Australia's policies and legislation should clearly distinguish our commitment to care for asylum seekers and refugees, including those whose claims have been rejected, from issues of border protection and people smuggling.

"As President of the National Assembly of the Uniting Church I call on the Federal Government to make such an exception now and release all children and their families from detention."

National Assembly Social Responsibility and Justice Director, Rev Elenie Poulos, said, "It is our recommendation that children and their families be placed into monitored community release until they can be returned home or temporary protection visas are granted. The case of the Bakhtiari family has highlighted the awful consequences of detention on young people. The Government must demonstrate that Australia is absolutely committed to the welfare of children and prepared to fulfil its moral obligations to care for the vulnerable, the weak and the oppressed."

Professor Haire also restated his call of August 2000, for a full judicial inquiry or royal commission into the management of detention centres and mandatory detention: "All I can say is we need such a public examination now more than ever. The moral authority of our nation is in question. It is time to act."