Tamworth priest slams "heartless" Council refugee decision

Parish priest of St Nicholas, Tamworth, Fr Richard Gleeson says that the council's decision to stop the NSW city from becoming a resettlement centre for refugees is "heartless".

Last week the council voted by a margin of 6-3 to reject the resettlement program.

But Mayor James Treloar said Department of Immigration and Multicultural Affairs guidelines prevented the proposal going ahead without clear community support, the Catholic Weekly reports.

He says one of the reasons behind the decision to block the move was the lack of health services to support refugees.

"We have a severe psychiatric services shortage in the city now," he said.

"Refugees come with significant amount of trauma and torture; they need counselling and the services aren't there.

"I have been trying for five years to get additional psychiatric services to the city, but if I can't get it for 40,000 people I don't know how they are suddenly going to get it for a program like this.

"There's an enormous amount of mistrust in Federal Government programs, which have a wonderful habit of starting up, but suddenly funding fades away from them."

But Fr Gleeson said: "Tamworth is a city, part of a state, part of a nation, part of a region, part of the world... [with] responsibilities at each of these levels.

"Australia has a proud record of acceptance of refugees, in compliance with United Nations agreements and protocols," Fr Gleeson said.

But "we are wanting, in my view, when it comes to the treatment we meet out to illegals and asylum seekers."

"However, to lack the hospitality and generosity to welcome refugees is unbelievable.

"The blessings and the good life of Tamworth don't belong to the few."

"The refugee problem is a massive one on a global scale. It will not go away," Fr Gleeson said.

"We can't hide from that which we ought and must do - welcome the stranger and the distressed into our city on behalf of a caring Australia."

Meanwhile, Fr Dominic Ceresoli, vicar of Immigration and Research in the Sydney archdiocese, told the Weekly he was saddened by the Tamworth Council's decision, saying "refugees have brought a wonderful gift to our community".

"It's a pity because there have been plenty of examples of successful resettlement of refugees in our community," he said.

Tamworth churches are planning to distribute a public petition this Saturday, calling on the council to reverse its decision to reject the refugees.

City heartless on refugees: parish priest (Catholic Weekly, 24/12/06)

LINKS (not necessarily endorsed by Church Resources)
Tamworth City

Church leaders petition Tamworth over refugee decision (CathNews, 20/12/06)
New life for Sydney's Sudanese refugees (CathNews, 25/8/06)
Sydney bishop outraged at slaying of refugee (CathNews, 21/2/06)
Queensland diocese complains about neo-nazi intimidation of refugees (CathNews, 26/7/05)

21 Dec 2006