Jesuit Refugee Service says Pacific Solution breaches Convention

The Jesuit Refugee Service has said that the new refugee processing laws announced last week will constitute a "grievous breach of the Refugees Convention" and create a "dangerous precedent for the future of the system of international protection".

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australian Director Fr David Holdcroft wrote in the JRS Dispatches international newsletter that the changes are intended to prevent future asylum seekers arriving by boat accessing Australian refugee status determination procedures.

Under a new hardline proposal, the Government will send all asylum seekers who reach the Australian mainland by boat to Christmas Island, Nauru or Manus Island in Papua New Guinea for processing.

The move is seen as an attempt to avoid further tensions with Indonesia following Indonesia's protest over Australia's granting of refugee status to 42 asylum seekers from its Papua province.

Fr Holdcroft said Australia's relations with Indonesia and its international treaty obligations are two separate issues. He said Australia has obligations under the Refugee Convention "that cannot be unilaterally derogated in the name of 'national interest' or political pragmatism".

"The current proposals deny potential refugees access to Australian courts and tribunals. In addition asylum seekers' movements will be severely restricted, and they will be served an account for their time spent in involuntary detention," he said.

Fr Holdcroft said Australia cannot "outsource" its international obligations to private processing agencies and foreign governments. To do so would "clearly call into question Australia's claim to uphold the Convention in good faith."

Meanwhile, Jesuit Fr Frank Brennan wrote in The Age and the Sydney Morning Herald yesterday that the Pacific Solution is unworkable, and that it will fail to deliver what the Government hopes.

"The first idea is that the Australian public servants determining asylum claims by people pleading persecution by a foreign government would check with that Government whether any persecution was occurring. Imagine back in 2001 asking the Taliban if they were persecuting Hazaras in Afghanistan," he said.

"Jakarta would end up being more upset, not less."

On the Easter weekend, Herman Wainggai (pictured) and his community of 40 recently arrived Papuan asylum seekers whose arrival in Australia sparked the diplomatic tension between Australia and Indonesia, told the congregation at St Ignatius Church in Richmond, Melbourne, of their journey from Papua and the trauma they escaped.

Nine of the asylum seekers have been given support housing in Richmond by St Ignatius Parish since their arrival, while another four will be housed after Easter.

The West Papuan community was welcomed at the commencement of the Good Friday service that also included a traditional song from the Highlands Region sung by the Papuans.

Parish Priest, Fr Peter Norden, said that the Richmond Catholic Parish is pleased to welcome the West Papuans into their community and to their Good Friday Service.

"The story of Good Friday is one of persecution and oppression, and the story of the West Papuans fits comfortably into the service of the day," he said.

"Jesus was arrested, tortured under interrogation, and condemned as an outcast by the authorities of his day, and there are many parallels with the experiences and the journey to Australia of this group of West Papuans".

Radical Changes Call into Question Australia's Commitment to the Refugees Convention (Jesuit Refugee Service 17/4/06)
Pacific Solution mark 2 won't work (The Age 17/4/06)
Papuans tell churchgoers of trauma (ABC News 15/4/06)
West Papuan Refugee Community Welcomed At Good Friday Service in Richmond (St Ignatius, Richmond 13/4/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Jesuit Refugee Service
St Ignatius Richmond

Nun identifies key to understanding West Papua tension (CathNews 13/4/06)
Franciscans say Jakarta ignoring root cause of West Papua tension (CathNews 12/4/06)

Frank Brennan SJ: Canberra joins the people traffickers (Sydney Morning Herald 17/4/06)
Children under threat of detention, says Labor (news.com.au/Australian Associated Press 16/4/06)
Girl was not taken illegally: Papuan (The Australian 15/4/06)

18 Apr 2006