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Australian Bishops call for action on asylum seekers

The Australian Catholics Bishops today issued a strong call challenging the Australian government to "respect the human dignity and rights of asylum seekers, hear their cries for help, and to heed the disquiet of the community".

The ABC's 7.30 Report (ABCTV) headed its report: "Today the powerful Catholic Bishops Conference added its voice to the growing chorus demanding change to the detention centre policy. Their press statement urges the Government to "respect the human dignity and rights of asylum seekers, hear their cries for help, and to heed the disquiet of the community".

Interviewed on the program the Archbishop of Sydney, Dr George Pell, speaking on behalf of the Australian Bishops said "Innocent people are suffering. I understand the Government is between a rock and a hard place. I have sympathy with the Minister and the PM. My fear is they're digging themselves deeper and deeper into a hole." The call from the Bishops has received wide media coverage including beyond Australia's shores on the BBC World Service and DW Radio, Cologne.

Following is the text of the original ACBC media release:


The President of the Australian Catholic Bishops' Conference, Archbishop Francis P Carroll, has called on the Australian Government to re-assess procedures dealing with the asylum seekers in the detention centres.

He said that while we can sympathise with the Government in dealing with the problems of asylum seekers arriving in unpredictable numbers without following proper procedures, and the difficulties of processing applications, there is widespread unease in the Australian Community about the current horrific situation.

"I urge the Government to respect the human dignity and rights of the asylum seekers, hear their cries for help, and to heed the disquiet of the Community', said Archbishop Carroll. "I also urge the Government to avail itself of the offers of practical assistance from the many groups that wish to assist in the care of the asylum seekers. The Catholic Community and its agencies are more than ready to work with Government and other bodies to bring relief and support".

While destructive behaviour and inflicting harm on children are repugnant, said Archbishop Carroll, they must be recognised as the response of deeply traurmatized people brought to a point of desperation. Children should not be in such centres in the first place and the causes of desperation much be addressed.

Archbishop Carroll welcomed the Government's decision to resume the processing of applications for residence, but pointed out the need for the process to be streamlined and expedited.

After the overthrow of the Taliban regime, the Afghan asylum seekers are in a special category. "Should not the Government consider giving them "safe haven" temporary visa arrangements similar to those extended to the East Timorese and Kosovars", asked the Archbishop.

"The tragic plight of the asylum seekers, especially the women and children calls for an immediate and compassionate response", concluded Archbishop Carroll.


7.30 REPORT Transcript
The Age
SMH - photo gallery of pictures by children in detention