In the light of the High Court's Malaysia decision the Edmund Rice Centre today invited the nation's political leaders to chart a new asylum-seeker policy direction.
“The High Court ruling on deportations to Malaysia, should serve as a call to reflection by the major parties to forge a new policy framework – focussed on compassion, empathy and respect for the human dignity of the vulnerable,” said Edmund Rice Centre director, Phil Glendenning.
“The Edmund Rice Centre calls on the major political parties to respect the full significance of the Court's ruling by moving away from the bipartisan commitment to 'deterrence', in favour of a new paradigm through which Australia can recognise the vulnerability of arriving asylum-seekers, and offer them a humanitarian and just response,” he said.
“For the past nine years the Edmund Rice Centre has been engaged in ongoing research to determine what happens to the asylum-seekers that Australia rejects. Recent meetings in Malaysia with migrant-support and legal-service organisations made very clear to me that deportations there would yield similar fates to those suffered by asylum seekers returned to danger from Nauru or Manus Island under the failed asylum policies of the Howard Government,” Mr Glendenning said.
“Of the 1,637 asylum-seekers sent to Nauru or Manus Island, more than 70% achieved recognition as refugees, and of these 96% were settled in either Australia or New Zealand. Others were forced back to the danger they had fled – often through deceit and coercion - particularly to Afghanistan. We know of 11 being killed - including children - but we believe the number is much higher, well in advance of 20. Among those sent back to the war-zone that Afghanistan still is, there were 42 unaccompanied minors. Anyone calling for Nauru or Manus Island to be reopened is forgetting this history.”
“Whilst push factors remain so strong the search for a deterrent is futile. There would appear to be a 'logic disconnect' in the failure to comprehend the magnitude of the threats and violence from which asylum seekers are fleeing when they risk their lives coming by boat to Australia – even with young children - in their quest for enduring safety and protection for themselves and their families.”
“No matter how sharp we make the razor-wire; no matter how isolated the locations where we place the camps; no matter how harsh and dehumanising we make life in the detention centres; and no matter how small we make the glimmer of hope at the end of the dark, dark tunnel of unending detention; our efforts will still pale in comparison.”
“The slow death borne in these trials that we inflict, cannot compare to the immediacy, horror and powerlessness confronted in the swift and stealthy terror of the death which these asylum-seekers are fleeing.”
“All that we have the capacity to succeed at doing, is diminishing life slowly. The self-harm, the enduring psychological damage, and the suicides are as much evidence of the success of our harm, as they are of the failure of our policies.”
“It is time for political leadership that is once again prepared to lead with honour – that is willing to engage the electorate with values-based community education - debunking the untruths, and making the case for compassion and empathy.”
For interview / comment contact Phil Glendenning by email on erc[at]erc.org.au or by phone at ERC: 02-8762-4200