This week is Refugee Week.
So many conversations with people here in Europe seem to inevitably turn to the question about why ‘Australia’ is behaving the way it is in regards to asylum seekers. Asylum seekers are coming to Europe in their thousands seeking a safe place to live, free from war, threat, conflict, persecution and hardship. Several years ago our friend Raimund, a Catholic priest in Bonn, was coming to terms with the new wave of migration for those seeking asylum. Catching up with him this week, it is clear he has now become very passionate about providing a safe haven for refugees and that Europe needs to do more. He recognizes there are limits to how many can be taken in but also that something can be done. He was heartened to hear the story of the ‘Mount Barker 9’ (a year ago, on 23rd June, 2014) when Jana and I and 7 other religious leaders were arrested for asking when the children will be released from detention (though he was horrified we were arrested for a peaceful protest).
Here’s a video of the peaceful protest this week in Parliament House, calling again for the release of children from indefinite immigration detention:
The UN High Commissioner for Human Rights has spoken this week about Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers at the 29th Session of the Human Rights Council in Geneva:
“Australia’s response to migrant arrivals has set a poor benchmark for its regional neighbours. The authorities have also engaged in turn-arounds and push-backs of boats in international waters. Asylum-seekers are incarcerated in centres in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, where they face conditions that the Special Rapporteur on Torture has reported as amounting to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment as defined by CAT. They also violate the Convention on the Rights of the Child, as the Australian Human Rights Commission has justifiably declared. Even recognized refugees in urgent need of protection are not permitted to enter Australia, which has set up relocation arrangements with countries that may be ill-prepared to offer them any durable solution. Such policies should not be considered a model by any country. Given that most of today’s Australians themselves descend from migrants – and given that the country maintains sizeable regular programs for migration and resettlement – I am bewildered by the hostility and contempt for these women, men and children that is so widespread among the country’s politicians.”
Please note, this is not limited to critique of one side of politics, but is a commentary on policies widely embraced in the political arena in Australia.
SA Governor Hieu Van Le, who arrived in Australia by boat to seek asylum, opened Refugee Week 2015 at Government House, saying: “It is up to all of us to ensure that xenophobia and fear should not in any way diminish our great tradition of acceptance.”