Australia: Opposition asylum seeker proposals ignore the facts

01 March 2013

JRS Australia advocates for refugees and asylum seekers to live in communities, and not in detention centers. Assistance is provided to both those in detention and living in the communities through the Shelter project and the Community Detention Project. (JRS)

Sydney, 1 March 2013 — Earlier this week a 21-year-old Sri Lankan asylum seeker was accused of sexually assaulting a student at Macquarie University in Sydney.

Scott Morrison, the spokesman for the opposition Coalition (of political parties) in Australia, is using the event to criticise the current Labour government for allowing asylum seekers into the community instead of keeping them in detention.

The Coalition suggests the suspension of all bridging visas, that local police should register and monitor all asylum seekers currently living in the community and that neighbourhoods be “warned” about asylum seekers residing in their area.

The Jesuit Refugee Service Australia views with alarm and concern this vilification and misinformation campaign launched by the opposition Coalition against asylum seekers.

“Is the coalition proposing special legal measures against all groups in Australia where one member of that group has been charged with a crime?” asked Father Aloysious Mowe SJ, JRS Australia’s Director.

Only a tiny minority of the 12,100 asylum seekers released into communities in the past 15 months have ever been charged with a crime. Additionally, the general public is 45 times more likely than an asylum seeker to commit a crime, according to local Australian news sources.

“If a myopic blonde Swedish visitor were to be charged with a crime in Sydney today, would Mr Morrison call for special restrictions and controls on all short-sighted blonde Swedish tourists in Australia?” Fr Aloysious Mowe queried ironically and added that singling out asylum seekers was a form of ‘fear-mongering’ in the general public.

Bridging visas successful

Bridging visas, which allow non-citizens to stay legally in Australia during the processing of an application, allow asylum seekers to access opportunities to contribute to Australian society. It is a way for them to experience freedom during their often lengthy Refugee Status Determination (RSD) process.

“The release of asylum seekers into the community has been a very successful program…since the overwhelming majority of boat arrivals have been found to be genuinely in need of Australian protection, those with bridging visas can begin the process of integration and jumpstart their lives in a country that will eventually become their home,” said Mowe.

In the past four years, 93 percent of asylum seekers who arrived in Australia by boat were found to be genuine refugees and deserving of protection.

But the Coalition’s continued use of the world ‘illegal’ to describe asylum seekers, may jeopardise the principle of asylum in Australia.

“Asylum seekers and the principle of asylum [may] become victims of cynical politicking in the long election campaign,” Moe stated.

“Vulnerable people, such as asylum seekers, should not be used to stoke fear and loathing in the community,” said Fr Mowe. “We expect decency from our political leaders. If decency is too much to ask, could we at least ask our politicians to respect the facts and tell the truth?”

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