Response to Labor Refugee Policy

02 December 2002

The Uniting Church in Australia national spokesperson on refugee and asylum issues says she is encouraged by Labor's Refugee Policy released this morning, "although some areas deserve further work."

"In a nutshell, the Labor policy on refugees is heading in the right direction but it is not quite brave enough", said Rev Elenie Poulos, National Director of Social Responsibility and Justice.

"We are encouraged by the more open and transparent approach evidenced in this policy. We are very happy that Labor will commit to a speedy processing system and put in place a monitoring system for failed asylum seekers who are returned. And we are extremely pleased with the promise to boost aid to source countries, countries of first asylum and the UNHCR.

"We congratulate the Labor Party on its recognition that the management of detention centres should rest with the public sector and that high security detention should only be used for short periods of time and never for children. We are particularly happy with the proposals for media access to detention centres and the provision of health services by independent health care professionals who will be allowed to make public comment.

"While we appreciate the proposal for hostel accommodation we are disappointed with the continued use of Christmas Island and the refusal to reverse the excision of areas from our migration zone.

"Although pleased that the Temporary Protection Visa regime will be radically cut back and more assistance will be given to holders of TPVs, the UCA has been calling for an end to TPVs altogether. We would have also preferred the creation of a class of humanitarian visa that can applied for through the same processes available for Protection Visas, although the more open and transparent system for the use of ministerial discretion is an improvement.

"The aspects of the policy that concern us most are those based on the idea that people do not have a right to move through countries of first asylum. The Uniting Church believes asylum seekers have a right to seek refuge in a safe country that can provide for their needs.

"While increased international aid will help in the long-term, in the immediate future people will still need to seek safety in other countries more able to provide for their well-being.

"The UCA in Australia looks forward to the time when the vilification of asylum seekers ends, when the rhetoric around these issues ceases to be based on fear, misunderstanding and misinformation and when Australian immigration policy on these issues reflects the compassionate heart that resides in Australians.

"We are calling for strong moral leadership as an antidote to the harsh and punitive policies of deterrence and the tactics of fear and race