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Bishops urge Australia to rethink policy on asylum seekers

Papua New Guinea bishops say the indefinite detention of asylum seekers is 'totally unjustifiable and unacceptable'

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: July 19, 2021 07:53 AM GMT

Updated: July 19, 2021 07:54 AM GMT

Bishops urge Australia to rethink policy on asylum seekers

Cramped conditions at a detention center on Manus Island in Papua New Guinea. (Photo: YouTube)

Bishops have appealed to the Australian government to provide homes for asylum seekers who have been detained in Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands.

Father Giorgio Licini, general secretary of the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Papua New Guinea and the Solomon Islands, has sent an open letter to Australian Senate president Scott Ryan and House of Representatives speaker Tony Smith.

The letter notes that it is eight years since the Australian parliament legislated on the mandatory offshore detention for asylum seekers arriving by boat after July 19, 2013, and the prohibition of them ever settling in Australia.

“The people transferred in 2013-14 to Manus and Nauru, and some detained offshore or onshore until now, have served a crucial Australian interest. Their detention has effectively achieved the purpose of stopping the boats, thus allowing Australia to cordon off its maritime borders,” the letter states.

“In truth, the Australian policy of indefinite detention of asylum seekers and refugees (or anybody else not convicted by the courts) sounds totally unjustifiable and unacceptable to us.

“In any case, we firmly believe it should not apply to those who have served a paramount Australian national interest at the price of great personal sacrifice.

Australia forcing them to stay indefinitely on PNG soil against the wish of anybody here contradicts the spirit of PNG self-determination

“We strongly urge the Australian parliament to legislate for the freedom and a home in Australia at least for those who have been detained in Manus and Nauru at any stage after July 19, 2013, and have no way, now and in the future, to be resettled to a third country.”

The letter acknowledges that the remaining asylum seekers and refugees still in Papua New Guinea (127 of them according to the UNHCR) enjoy better freedom of movement than those transferred to detention facilities and “alternative places of detention” in Australia.

“But you cannot think of keeping them here forever,” the letter adds.

“Under the current legislation, they have no right to be resettled in Australia. But they have no duty to live in Papua New Guinea either, unless that is their free choice. Australia forcing them to stay indefinitely on PNG soil against the wish of anybody here contradicts the spirit of PNG self-determination. We believe it is time for Australia to erase any trace of past colonial demand and fully implement a new style of compassionate and participative leadership in the Pacific.

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“Please close the Manus and Nauru chapter as soon as possible by allowing people who have sacrificed so much for your country, and whose acute suffering we see every day, to access a reasonable and acceptable level of freedom and dignity in Australia; specifically, those who have been in Manus and Nauru after July 19, 2013, and have no option for a third country of resettlement and, as we all know, cannot return to their home country.”

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