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Church call for scrutiny of plight of all detainees

Following the recent revelation of the detention of psychiatric patient Cornelia Rau, the Church's peak migration and justice organisations have joined forces to call on the Federal Government to ensure an adequate process of inquiry.

The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO) and the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) are joining other lobby groups in the community to prevent a repeat of this person's ordeal and to address the similar treatment of all people in detention.

"Whatever the process of inquiry, the public will be looking for reforms ensuring no person will ever again fall through the cracks in the existing systemm," said ACSJC chair Bishop Christopher Saunders in a statement released late yesterday. "Inadequacies in state-based missing person notifications will be assessed and there may be calls for a national database."

He suggested that undoubtedly, all levels of government will need to improve standards of psychiatric assessment and care in jails and detention centres.

"In addition to concerns about the unfortunate treatment of an Australian resident, this inquiry must consider the overall standard of care afforded to all people in detention. The treatment of Cornelia Rau is unacceptable. Logically then, we need to consider the treatment of others in immigration detention who are also vulnerable and deserving of care and dignity", said Bishop Saunders.

Bishop Joseph Grech, Chairman of the Bishops' Committee for Migrants and Refugees, said: "The Catholic Bishops of Australia have raised concerns on numerous occasions about conditions in immigration detention centres. We have stated our opposition to mandatory detention of asylum seekers, beyond the need for initial processing. Prolonged detention is gravely injurious, and adds to the trauma that has often been experienced in fleeing oppression and braving a perilous journey.

"Mental health is a significant issue in immigration detention centres. We call on the Australian Government to ensure that due consideration be given to the conditions endured by immigration detainees during the investigations that are now underway", Bishop Grech concluded.

Meanwhile The Age reveals today that Fr Arno Vermeeren, a priest from Renmark, South Australia, who visits Baxter detention centre regularly, told members of an Immigration Department advisory group in December that Cornelia Rau needed help.

Fr Vermeeren said his appeal to get her out went unheeded. He said he raised his concerns on 18 December with the group at an informal meeting at Port Augusta.

He told them that Ms Rau, then in Baxter's behaviour-management "red one" section, should not be in Baxter as she was mentally ill.

"I said it was inappropriate that she should be there and that it was apparent to the other detainees that she was unwell and shouldn't be there," he said last night," he told The Age, "I presumed they would go and visit the detention centre," he said. But nothing changed, he said.

Plight of all in immigration detention must be considered (Australian Catholic Bishops Conference 10/2/05)
Appeal for help unheeded, says priest (The Age 11/2/05)

Bishops' Committee for Migrants and Refugees
Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office
Australian Catholic Social Justice Council

Vanstone in new mental health row (Sydney Morning Herald 11/2/05)
Lib's call to end detention gets expert backing (The Age 11/2/05)
Editorial: The burden of schizophrenia (The Australian 11/2/05)
Bishop attacks 'xenophobic bidding war' over asylum and immigration (Ekklesia 9/2/05)
Bishop protests at UK's 'alarming' new refugee and asylum policy (Independent Catholic News 9/2/05)
Vanstone should resign: refugee group (Sydney Morning Herald/Australian Associated Press 6/2/05)

11 Feb 2005