Jesuit Refugee Service Australia (JRS) calls on the Prime Minister to exercise moral and political leadership by ending the current policy of offshore processing of people seeking asylum in Australia. The decision by the PNG government to shut the Manus Island detention centre following the PNG Supreme Court’s finding that the detention of asylum seekers is unconstitutional and illegal has presented the Australian government with stark choices.
“Australia has to face up to the facts: the people transferred to Nauru and Manus Island have always been Australia’s responsibility, and no amount of rhetoric or political expediency can extinguish that obligation to protect them,” said Fr Aloysious Mowe SJ, the Director of JRS. “It has been evident to any clear-eyed observer from the start that Nauru and Manus Island were not solutions, that setting up processing centres there could only ever be short-term responses to political pressures, and that Nauru and PNG cannot in the foreseeable future be permanent resettlement places for the people who have been transferred there by Australia.”
The Minister for Immigration, Peter Dutton, has suggested that the open processing centre in Nauru has room for the men held in Manus, and reiterated the Coalition’s stand, “People who have attempted to come illegally by boat and are now in the Manus facility will not be settled in Australia.”
“It is inconceivable, given the tensions and pressures already present in Nauru, that it would agree to the transfer of a further 900 people to its processing centre, particularly when that centre as it stands is supposed to allow for the free movement of its residents while they await the outcome of their protection claims,” said Fr Mowe. “Nauru and PNG have had the spotlight held up to their administrative shortcomings, and their reputations have been trashed by the presence of the processing centres there. No other third countries with any sense are going to come forward to host processing centres for Australia. Prime Minister Turnbull should do what his three predecessors did not have the political courage or the moral fibre to do: bring the people on Manus and Nauru back to Australia, evaluate their refugee claims if that has not been done, and offer them the protection that is their fundamental human right.”
The current political orthodoxy seems to hold that the security of Australia’s borders is dependent on denying people who come to Australia by boat to seek asylum access to Australian protection. JRS acknowledges the need for all countries to have a border management strategy, but such border policies have to respect international law, fundamental human rights, and the inalienable dignity of every human person. JRS believes that current Australian policy in respect of the people it has transferred to Nauru and PNG violates all of the above, and urges the Prime Minister to take advantage of the Manus Island decision to restore Australia’s reputation as a place where the rule of law and the dignity of the human person take precedent over electoral fears and political rhetoric, “to make this Commonwealth of ours renowned of all the lands.”