Church Condemns Suspension of Visas

09 April 2010

President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev. Alistair Macrae has condemned the announcement today by Foreign Minister Stephen Smith and Immigration Minister Chris Evans that Australia has suspended the processing of all protection applications from Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers.

Rev. Macrae said, "the Government has broken its promises to uphold the rights of asylum seekers by returning to what is in essence a form of indefinite, mandatory detention.

"While we commend the Government's continued commitment to the humane treatment of people in detention, it is inherently inhumane to keep people who have fled persecution, torture and deep trauma detained and in limbo with no indication of when or if their claim for protection will ever be heard.

"The Government has up until now committed itself to the speedy processing of protection claims because they understand that indefinite detention is inappropriate," said Rev. Macrae.

On 29 July 2008, announcing the Government's 'New Directions in Detention' policy, the Minister for Immigration said,

Labor rejects the notion that dehumanising and punishing unauthorised arrivals with long-term detention is an effective or civilised response. Desperate people are not deterred by the threat of harsh detention – they are often fleeing much worse circumstances. The Howard government's punitive policies did much damage to those individuals detained and brought great shame on Australia.

The fourth value of the Government's Seven Immigration Detention Values states:

Detention that is indefinite or otherwise arbitrary is not acceptable and the length and conditions of detention, including the appropriateness of both the accommodation and the services provided, would be subject to regular review.

"While the Government claims that this decision is in response to changing circumstances in Sri Lanka and Afghanistan, it is very difficult to interpret it in any way other than a response to domestic political pressure and designed to achieve maximum favour in the Australian electorate," said Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of UnitingJustice.

"Yet again we see asylum seekers being punished to order to satisfy the call to send a tough message to people smugglers. This tendency of successive governments to punish the victims is of deep concern and out of step with Australia's reputation as a hospitable community," said Rev. Poulos.

"All of the evidence and views of Australia's most respected mental health professionals, including those of 2010 Australian of the Year Professor Patrick McGorry, attest to the devastating effects of mandatory, indefinite detention on asylum seekers' psychological state ability to fully participate in the community once they have left detention to start their new lives," said Rev. Macrae.

"I call on the Prime Minister to explain to the electorate how this decision is not contrary to all that the Government has so far stood for.

"The Uniting Church is extremely concerned about the welfare of extremely vulnerable people who are confined in detention without any sense of future," said Rev. Macrae.