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Australia’s asylum policy ‘un-Christian’: The Church of England Newspaper, September 2, 2012 p 6. September 6, 2012

Posted by geoconger in Anglican Church of Australia, Church of England Newspaper, Immigration.
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Retired Australian Defence Chief Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston

Church leaders in Australia have voiced objections to new legislation to regulate entry of asylum seekers and control illegal immigration.

The Archbishop of Adelaide, Dr. Jeffrey Driver – the chairman of the Anglican Church of Australia’s Refugee and Migrant Network – said he welcomed some of the reforms, but was perturbed by the underlying philosophy of the government’s “Houston Report” on asylum seekers.

On 13 August 2012 a report commissioned by the government from an expert panel convened by Air Chief Marshall Angus Houston made 22 recommendations for reforming the government’s asylum policies including processing asylum seekers in Nauru and Papua New Guinea.  The report, which the panel described as “hard-headed but not hard-hearted” and “realistic, but not idealistic”, also recommended increasing the current number of asylum places from 13,000 to 20,000 immediately, and expanding it to 27,000 within five years.

Air Chief Marshall Houston said there were no quick and easy solutions to Australia’s boat people problem, but argued the panel’s recommendations were guided by fairness and  a sense of humanity. “Like all Australians we are deeply concerned about this tragic loss of life at sea … to do nothing is unacceptable,” he said.

The “Houston Report’s recommendation that boat people processed on Naura and PNG’s Manus Island should be forced to wait as long as those who claim asylum through more traditional channels before they are resettled is inhumane and will be prohibitively expensive,” Dr. Driver said.

“Using the fate of asylum seekers in this way to discourage people smugglers is like using the victims of crime to fight crime; it is punishing the victims in order to discourage the perpetrators,” he said.

The Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr. Philip Freier welcomed the quota increase, but worried there were no guarantees that asylum seekers will not be detained indefinitely on Nauru and Manus Island.

“It has been clearly established that long and indefinite detention severely affects the mental health of detainees. This is of particular concern in the case of children and unaccompanied minors,” he said on 16 August, adding that he urged “the Federal Government to place a limit on the time detainees, especially children, are held in detention.”

Prof. Andrew Dutney, President of the National Assembly of the Uniting Church in Australia, said his church was “deeply disappointed at the recommendations of the Houston Panel on Asylum Seekers. And we are dismayed by the enthusiasm with which the Parliament has passed legislation which will see Australia close its doors to asylum seekers arriving by boat.”

The new policies a sign of a “grave moral failure” and of a “political process that has completely lost its moorings in the Christian heritage” and were “based on a theory of deterrence. The aim is, effectively, to punish new arrivals so that when others hear about it they will be deterred from attempting the same thing. The horrifying message we are sending is that, not only are strangers not welcome here, they are risking further harm at our hands,” he argued.

“A nation that is so determined to turn strangers away – to oppose the God whose mission begins with the stranger, the disadvantaged and the unwanted – cannot prosper in any way that matters,” Prof. Dutney said.

First printed in The Church of England Newspaper.