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Bishop says Nauru self-harm reports not surprising

Highlighting the need for an end to the government's so-called Pacific Solution, Bishop Joseph Grech has said reports of self-harm by a number of Afghani people being held in detention on Nauru are sad but not surprising.

"We are saddened to learn about reports of self-harm and self-mutilation by a number of Afghani people held in detention on Nauru," said Bishop Joseph Grech, Chairman of the Bishops' Committee for Migrants and Refugees.

"But we are not surprised that the situation has deteriorated to this extent. The Pacific Solution did not anticipate how to handle a residual caseload of several hundred people whose protection claims were refused."

In their 2002 Statement Refugees and Asylum Seekers, the Bishops of Australia called for "the abandonment of the practice of turning boats away and of escorting asylum seekers to other countries such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea". The Bishops called this an "unconscionable practice".

At present there are 284 mostly Afghani and Iraqi asylum seekers on Nauru, including 93 children, whose claims for protection have been refused and who are not eligible to access the same determination process as their compatriots here.

Bishop Grech said the situation is particularly distressing at this time when Christians were preparing to celebrate the birth of Jesus.

He referred to the Bishops' 2002 statement which said "the Gospel presentation of Mary and Joseph and the infant Jesus as refugees from the terror of King Herod, and as asylum seekers, is an enduring and challenging message from God; as the words of Jesus Christ himself said, 'For I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me'".

"We call on the Australian government to recognise the complementary protection needs of those Afghans on Nauru who are from districts that are not yet safe. The same applies to Iraqis and other detainees on Nauru," he said.

Meanwhile, Fr Tony Pearson of the Otherway Refugee Service in Adelaide took a cue form Immigration Minister Amanda Vanstone and described the rhetoric the Government is using against the boat people in detention on Nauru and elsewhere as "very, very unattractive".

Senator Vanstone had described the hunger strike on Nauru as a "a very, very unattractive protest." She said the asylum seekers are "not refugees" but are "people who wanted to come in the back door to Australia and have been caught out and cannot come, and they are simply refusing to go home." Trying to "bludgeon" the media and the government, they are "economic migrants" here to improve their life-style.

Fr Pearson said: "Politically astute as ever, and reminiscent of the 'throwing children into the sea' affair, John Howard has cunningly highlighted the suggestion that children may be being encouraged to take part in the hunger strike by ordering an investigation into it.

"Vanstone and Howard continue to demonise asylum seekers with the same old rhetoric. Never a single word of understanding, never a word of compassion. Show no mercy! These hunger strikers are illegals, queue jumpers, and economic migrants.. This is designer language."

Reports of self-harm on Nauru sad but not surprising - Catholic Bishop (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 19/12/03)
Asylum Seeker Rhetoric: "Absolute Bloody Nonsense!!" (Otherway Refugee Service)

Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office
Otherway Centre | Christmas Poster
Rights group doubts worth of govt team to Nauru (Radio Australia 22/12/03)
Refugee group concerned over Nauru delegation (ABC 21/12/03)
UNHCR urges humanity on Nauru (AAP/ 20/12/03)

22 Dec 2003