Church Responds to Laurie Ferguson

28 October 2004

The Uniting Church today said that it is disappointing that the new Shadow Minister for Immigration, Laurie Ferguson, has already shown that he knows nothing about the procedures for assessing refugee claims.

Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director, UnitingJustice Australia said that it is Mr Ferguson, not refugee advocates, who is undermining the rules, controls, and checking of refugee claims by the ridiculous comment that asylum seekers have fraudulent cases or manipulate the legal system.

"A refugee determination process, as a system for checking refugee claims, involves assessing an asylum seeker's claims against the Refugee Convention definition of a refugee," Rev Poulos said.

"All people have a right to seek asylum in another country and it is through the rules, controls, and checking of the refugee determination process that their claim for protection is tested. This process necessitates that some claims for protection will be accepted and others refused.

"Mr Ferguson's comments that rejected claims are somehow fraudulent show a complete lack of understanding of the protection system, and a clear disregard for the principles of justice upon which refugee determination processes should be based.

"If a person's claim for protection is rejected, this simply means that the person is not a Convention Refugee. It does not mean that the person acted fraudulently."

Rev. Poulos also said that it is widely recognised that many people who are in need of protection fall outside the Refugee Convention definition of a refugee.

"Many asylum seekers who have their refugee protection claim refused have genuine protection needs including those that invoke our obligations under other international treaties, people who would be at risk if they were returned, and those who have experienced severe suffering or human rights abuses." Rev. Poulos said.

"The Minister for Immigration has granted a number of visas to asylum seekers using discretionary power for reasons such as these.

"Many churches, refugee advocates, and community organisations actually advocate for more effective rules and controls, such as the introduction of a system of complementary protection so that these decisions are subject to more stringent checks and more effective accountability processes."