Bishop welcomes wind-down of "unconscionable" Pacific Solution
The Immigration Minister's decision to resettle in Australia the remaining refugees being held in Pacific processing centres is a welcome "step in the right direction", according to Bishops' Committee for Migrants and Refugees Chairman, Bishop Joseph Grech.
Most of the 51 genuine refugees detained on Nauru will be resettled in Australia, the Federal Government revealed this week. The Government also announced the mothballing of the Manus Island immigration processing centre in Papua New Guinea following the departure of the last three detainees.
"I welcome Mr Ruddock's statement that the remaining refugees in the off-shore processing centres at Manus (PNG) and Nauru, who are not being considered for resettlement in other countries, will be invited to complete applications for visas to Australia," Bishop Grech said. "I also welcome the Minister's announcement that the Manus Centre will be wound down."
In welcoming the moves, Bishop Grech drew attention to the 2002 Australian Catholic Bishops' Statement on Refugees and Asylum Seekers in which they called for an abandonment of the practice of escorting asylum seekers to other countries such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea.
"This is an unconscionable practice," they said.
Bishop Grech noted that the Minister's latest statement does not ensure an abandonment of the practice, but that it was a step in the right direction. He said that people who had been found to be refugees, such as those on Nauru and in Papua New Guinea, should be welcomed to Australia and given every assistance when they arrived here.
Meanwhile independent Catholic lobby group PolMin said that ministerial discretion must be removed from the Migration Act 1958.
PolMin pointed out that in enacting the Migration Act in 1958, the Federal Government was bringing about a "non-discriminatory migration policy". But during the past decade, Parliament has given the Minister the power to override the Act, and has "strengthened this power by enacting section 474 which bars parties appealing such decisions".
"PolMin believes all ministerial discretion should be removed from the substantive actions under Migration Act thereby rendering the policy once again a non-discriminatory policy," said spokesperson James McGillicuddy. "It must be the Australian community through Parliament and not the Minister who determines who can enter and remain in Australia."
Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Island detainees get their chance to settle in Australia (The Age)/PolMin
Social Justice Council says why Pacific Solution is wrong (28/5/02)
Commission highlights Govt asylum seeker blundering (8/7/03)
Catholic bodies welcome changes to immigration detention (6/12/02)
2002 Australian Catholic Bishops' Statement on Refugees and Asylum Seekers (PDF)
Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office
31 Jul 2003