Responsibility for refugees should not involve trading lives: ACMRO

27/07/2011

Following the announcement of the Australian Government’s deal with Malaysia, the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO) has called on all political parties to strive for a more humanised approach to dealing with clandestine migration.

"The welfare of all migrants is paramount and outweighs any policy which punishes 800 asylum seekers who in desperation turn to people smugglers for help," says ACMRO Director Fr Maurizio Pettenà.

"We are very concerned that vulnerable people including children, families and others in distress will be further paralysed by this deal at a time when they most need Australia’s help."

Fr Pettenà said the Malaysian solution reflects a domestic political notion that Australia is under threat from boat arrivals.

"In fact, these small numbers of boat arrivals are insignificant in comparison to our total migration program, which, according to the department of Immigration and Citizenship (DIAC), included almost 170,000 permanent and more than 3.4 million visitor visas in 2009-10," Fr Pettenà said.

"Host to more than 92,000 refugees, Malaysia has a much greater challenge than Australia in order to fully utilise the benefits that refugees can bring to destination countries. Australia could provide a much better life for these 800 people than they can expect in Malaysia."

A recent DIAC report (A Significant Contribution) concludes that refugees are an investment in Australia’s long term prosperity due to their drive to succeed and young demographic profile - much needed if Australia is to maintain current standards of living in the face of an ageing population.

"Australia is excellent at delivering resettlement services and has the capacity to play a much larger role in the Asia Pacific region," Fr Pettenà said.

"However, a genuine sharing of the responsibility for refugees should not involve trading lives in order to address people smuggling.

"Blessed John Baptist Scalabrini in 1890 said that migration in almost all cases is not a pleasure but a necessity that cannot be avoided. History shows that clandestine migration such as unauthorised boat arrivals are not stopped by domestic policies or by changing political parties. Voters with this expectation will be disappointed. Clandestine migration to Australia occurs because of what is happening in Afghanistan, Iraq, Iran and Sri Lanka.

"Those in need are still there, waiting in growing desperation. Any damage done to the people smuggler business model may result in even more drastic measures and exploitation, as asylum seekers find alternative means to get to Australia."

ACMRO welcomed the news that recent boat arrivals arriving between the announcement and the official signing of the deal will have their refugee assessments carried out in Australia – as all asylum seekers arriving here should be.

"The government must pursue the welfare of migrants for their sake and for the sake of all Australia," said Fr Pettenà.


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