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Justice Commission warns Woomera trial 'splits families and costs a bomb'

Melbourne's Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and Peace has warned that holding fathers in detention while releasing mothers and children into a segregated community environment is "fundamentally flawed" because it "splits families".

The Federal Government plans to move approximately 112 children and their mothers into the segregated security environment of the Woomera Housing Project and other centres.

The Commission points out that it is the first step in recognising that the treatment of children in immigration detention centres is damaging and needs to be fixed. But it adds that the Government needs to respect the integrity of the family by allowing fathers to remain with their wives and children.

"The kids and mums who went through the trial of the Woomera Housing Project earlier this year suffered real distress as a result of separation," said the Commission's Executive Officer Marc Purcell. "The Government is on shaky moral ground when it starts splitting up families."

"At $320 a day per person, the Woomera housing trial costs a bomb and is a waste of taxpayers money when things ran be done much more cheaply," he said. "There are already thousands of asylum seekers living in the community with the Government's permission, being looked after by welfare organisations, and this undermines the Government's arguments about the risk of absconding."

Catholic Commission for Justice, Development and Peace

New church statement coincides with Govt backdown on detention (2/12/02)
About-face on detention centres policy (The Age 2/12/02)
Government urged to reconsider offer
Woomera Detention kids attend first day at Catholic school (22/11/02)
Bishop to push Govt on asylum seekers in Catholic schools (19/11/02)
Ruddock rejects new Church call for asylum seeker compassion (18/9/02)


The Europe Office of the Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) has identified an emerging trend in the increasing number of genuine refugees choosing to "go underground" rather than follow correct procedures.

"They prefer to live with irregular or illegal status rather than face the process of lodging an asylum claim with all the uncertainties involved," said JRS Europe Director Fr John Dardis. "This has been documented by, among others, UNHCR and by the Refugee Studies Centre at Oxford University (UK)."

"While there is much coverage of those asylum claims which prove unfounded," said Fr Dardis, "this issue gets little attention. What it means is that these people are turning their backs on the concept of refugee since they judge that they will find more security living among the wider migrant population."

He listed a number of reasons include fear of detention, awareness that the processing of a claim can take a long time, and fear of a negative decision about their claim with consequent deportation to the country from which they fled.

Fr Dardis said that more research is needed to quantify the extent of this problem and to assess the reasons.

JRS Europe

Jesuit Refugee Service Europe | International | Australia


Pope John Paul condemned xenophobia yesterday, saying too many people were being excluded from a better life because of the colour of their skin and their traditions.

Saying solidarity did not come easily, he urged people to open their minds and hearts "and learn to discern in people of other cultures the handiwork of God."

Some 191 million people around world live far from their homeland, according to the Vatican. Some 175 million of them are economic migrants and 16 million political refugees.

The Pope warned those most vulnerable were "undocumented migrants, refugees, asylum seekers, those displaced by continuing violent conflicts...and the victims -- mostly women and children -- of the terrible crime of human trafficking."

In a message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees, the Holy Father urged communities to "pass from mere tolerance of others to real respect for their differences."

He also said immigrants must strive to "honour the countries which receive them and to respect the laws, culture and traditions of the people who have welcomed them."


Papal message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees (Vatican Information Service)
Defeat racism, xenophobia and exaggerated nationalism (Vatican Information Service)

3 Dec 2002