Speaking Truth to Power about Asylum Seekers

22 July 2013
Speaking Truth to Power about Asylum Seekers

National Director of UnitingJustice Australia, Rev. Elenie Poulos, and members of the Uniting Church who work with asylum seekers, have spoken out during a Federal Government caucus meeting in the Sydney suburb of Balmain.

Rev. Poulos told assembled national media that the Government's policy of sending all asylum seekers arriving by boat to Papua New Guinea for resettlement was, "a gross abdication of our moral responsibility to care for people who come to us seeking protection."

"This is the damaging end result of treating asylum seekers and refugees as political footballs," Rev. Poulos told reporters outside Balmain Town Hall.

"Policies that intend to punish rather than protect are totally inappropriate.

"The decision to close ourselves off from helping people in need is immoral and should concern everyone.

"We are very concerned about people drowning at sea but people will only stop getting on boats when they feel safe where they are. This is where the Government's energies should be focussed."

Rev. Poulos, who is also Chairperson of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, raised concerns that Australia was not meeting its obligations under the Refugee Convention.

"The Refugee Convention requires us to process the claims of asylum seekers who arrive regardless of how they arrive.

Rev. Poulos rebutted the notion there was such a thing as "a queue" for asylum seekers.

"The queue is a fabrication. There is no queue if you're a person in Syria who's had to flee your home. There is no queue in Afghanistan, in Iran and Iraq," said Rev. Poulos.

"There are millions of refugees in the world. All of them are struggling and as a rich, wealthy, secure and stable country we have a responsibility to care for people in our region.

"At home too, churches and church agencies are being stretched to provide care and support to the many asylum seekers and their families in the community who have been stripped of their work rights. The 'no advantage principle' forces people into situations of destitution.

"It's a very sad situation where we have politics overriding the care of people in need," said Rev. Poulos.

22 July 2013