Detention on Christmas Island Must End

17 March 2011

The Uniting Church in Australia has expressed its horror at the excessive use of force against asylum seekers on Christmas Island this past weekend.

The President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev. Alistair Macrae said today, 'The confirmation by the Immigration Minister that "beanbag" bullets along with tear gas were used against an unarmed group of people partaking in a peaceful demonstration is of extreme concern to us.

'Uniting Church members around the country have expressed their own distress about this incident. We fear that this use of force against already traumatised people will compound their trauma and despair.

'This action is reminiscent of the worst of the Howard Government's punitive treatment of people seeking our protection. It appears that it was the deployment and actions of AFP officers that lead to an escalation of what had been a peaceful protest,' Rev. Macrae said.

'This incident confirms the total inappropriateness of immigration detention on Christmas Island,' said Rev. Elenie Poulos, National Director of the Uniting Church's national justice and advocacy agency, UnitingJustice Australia.

'When you detain people for months on end in overcrowded and unsuitable conditions, providing little information about their case and prospects of release, it is understandable that their frustrations and desperation will boil over.

'While the Government's commitment to the removal of children and families from detention is a welcome step forward, it is clear from this event and the countless other incidents in detention centres across the country, including a hunger strike only recently ended at Villawood, that the detention environment is unfit for any human being – man, woman or child.

'The continued use of mandatory detention for asylum seekers on Christmas Island and in other locations on the mainland is a breach of Australia's international human rights obligations and our duty of care to vulnerable, traumatised people.

'We await the release of the full terms of reference for an independent inquiry into this incident which fully investigates the use of force in the detention environment. We also reiterate the Church's call for an end to the inhumane, damaging and costly policy of mandatory detention,' said Rev. Poulos.