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Caritas appeal launch highlights refugees' hour of need

"Never before have displaced people had greater needs," said Caritas Australia National Director Jack De Groot ahead of today's launch of the Project Compassion lenten appeal. "The Catholic Church has rightly criticised the Australian policy of detaining asylum seekers, but we must also be conscious of our responsibility to assist refugees overseas."

"The last year has seen one of the most urgent refugee crises in history with hundreds of thousands of Afghani people fleeing the military response to the 11 September attacks," he said. "We must not forget, however, the significant populations of refugees in our region and throughout the world. Throughout South East Asia for example, communities have been forced to flee their homes due to religious and ethnic conflict."

Caritas Australia, the Catholic agency for overseas aid and development supports self-help projects in over 30 countries worldwide. Project Compassion is one of the largest humanitarian appeals in Australia each year. In 2001 Project Compassion raised the record amount on $5.8 million.

Meanwhile Duncan MacLaren, head of the Caritas Internationalis aid organisation yesterday appealed to the Australian government and people to uphold the rights of asylum seekers.

He told an audience at Parliament House, Sydney, hosted by NSW Premier Bob Carr, that Australia must "work to make sure that the rights of migrants and asylum seekers are upheld and that something like Woomera never happens again".

Congratulating the Australian church on its compassionate stance towards asylum seekers, Mr MacLaren said: "I salute Archbishop Pell and the other bishops here for their compassionate stance on the asylum seekers - they with many other protestors have partially regained Australia's reputation as a place with a commitment to a fair go for everyone."

Caritas Australia Project Compassion (click here for online donations)