Removal of Pending Bridging Visas

23 March 2005

The President of the Uniting Church, Rev. Dr Dean Drayton, said today that he was relieved that the cruelty of detention will be over for a small number of people, but expressed disappointment that nothing is being done for the majority who remain in detention.

"What we see today is a minimalist approach which does nothing to address the policy of mandatory detention and gives a relatively small number of people some short-term relief while they wait to be sent home.

"We remain deeply concerned for the well-being of these people, who will remain stateless even though they will be living in the community. They are being released because they cannot be resettled but who knows if they will ever have a place to go!

"Today's decision leaves these people with no more long-term certainty than they have ever had and is a sad indictment that the lack of generosity continues. Even while the Government has acknowledged that more compassion should be shown, it has refused to make the policy changes necessary for a just system," Rev. Drayton said.

UnitingJustice Australia National Director, Rev. Elenie Poulos said thousands of people have been damaged and traumatised by a cruel detention and visa system. "This approach requires people to drop their review and court processes and trust a Government that has kept them incarcerated for years.

"The Removal Pending Bridging Visa is just another example of this cruel approach. People who have had no home will remain in a state of limbo with some access to services but no opportunity to rebuild their shattered lives," Rev. Poulos said.

Rev. Drayton said while the Government remains so intransigent, the Uniting Church will continue to advocate for asylum seekers and refugees in the community and in detention both here and in Nauru.

"We have been supporting all detainees, especially those who have had a religious experience that would mean life threatening situations if they were to express their new faith in their home country.

"I am personally responsible for those people in detention centres who have worshipped faithfully as Uniting Church members over the last five years. They have studied hard and undergone long preparation before being baptised into the Uniting Church.

"We are also committed to finding answers for all others who suffer daily the abuse of current Government policy," Rev. Drayton said.

"We look forward to the release of more people from detention. At this Easter time, we call on the Government to act with greater compassion – to return to asylum seekers some of the dignity we have stolen from them."

"We call on the Government to change its approach, to treat people as we ourselves would want to be treated. It is time for Australia to offer hope and security to people who have lost all hope and remain in fear for their lives," Rev. Drayton said.