Pastoral care under threat at Christmas Island, says Bishop Grech

The isolated location of a new detention centre being constructed at the cliff-surrounded western tip of Christmas Island will make it "virtually impossible" to provide adequate pastoral care, says Bishop Grech.

"With the centre being located in such an isolated place, from a pastoral point of view it makes it virtually impossible for us to provide what is necessary," Bishop Grech who chairs the Bishops' Committee for Migrants and Refugees told the Catholic Weekly.

"There can't be regular visits from chaplains and there can't be volunteers going to visit these people like what we are doing at the moment at other detention centres because access to the island is very difficult," Bishop Grech said.

"It's a major concern because part of our work as the Church is to help those in need."

Sometimes described as "Australia's Guantanamo Bay", the 800-bed centre will have bedroom cameras, electric fences and electronically controlled doors allowing centre-wide lock-downs.

The level of security and surveillance, greater than at any existing detention centre, makes parts of the $240 million complex compar-able to a maximum security prison.

The centre is due for completion within the next few months.

Christmas Island is about 500km south of Jakarta. The new camp is in an isolated area of national park near the western tip of the island, surrounded by cliffs.

Bishop Grech asked how the $240 million spent in building this new facility could be justified when "there's plenty of room" on the mainland at Baxter and Villawood detention centres.

He also questioned the need for such security on an isolated island.

"This new detention centre is raising a lot of questions rather than answers," he said.

Sr Susan Connelly, of Mary MacKillop East Timor (formerly Mary MacKillop Institute of East Timorese studies), is "appalled" by the "ridiculous amount of money" spent on building the centre "which would have been better spent elsewhere".

"Locking these people up in detention centres is inhumane and goes against the teaching of the Gospel," she said. "Detention centres are not better than the countries they have left behind."

However, the Government says the high-tech enclosure is a deterrent to smugglers and illegal entrants, and useful for contingencies.

The Department of Immigration said: "While the Government's policies have been successful in stemming the flow of unauthorised boat arrivals, the capacity needs to be available should unauthorised arrival numbers start increasing."

Pope's Message for World Day of Migrants and Refugees 2007

Meanwhile, Pope Benedict's message for the World Day of Migrants and Refugees (Refugee and Migrant Sunday) has been released.

Australian Catholic and Migrant Refugee Office head, Fr John Murphy said the day will be celebrated internationally in the Catholic Church on Sunday 14 January, 2007.

However for practical reasons in Australia, the celebration will be retained on the last Sunday of August (26 August, 2007).

The Pope's message was earlier presented to the media by Cardinal Renato Martino and Archbishop Agostino Marchetto, respectively President and Secretary of the Pontifical Council for the Pastoral Care of Migrants and Itinerant People.

Threat to pastoral care at new camp (Catholic Weekly, 26/11/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Bishops' Committee for Migrants and Refugees, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference
Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs
Pope's message for 93rd World Day of Migrants and Refugees (/A>
Presentation by Cardinal Martino

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23 Nov 2006