Australia: Bishop speaks out after asylum tragedy

By ACNS staff
Posted Feb 21, 2014

[Anglican Communion News Service] The Anglican Church of Australia has called for a review of the country’s asylum and refugee policies after a violent break-out at a regional processing facility on Manus Island resulted in the death of an Iranian asylum seeker.

Twenty-three-year-old Reza Barati was moved to Manus Island last August, a month after he arrived on Christmas Island. He is one of thousands of asylum seekers, mainly from the Middle East, who try to enter Australia on dangerous boat journeys from Indonesia. He was killed on Monday in an incident in which 62 other asylum seekers were injured.

Manus Island, in Papua New Guinea, holds 1,300 asylum seekers. It is one of a number of South Pacific regional processing facilities used by Australia to house refugees and asylum seekers while their claims are evaluated.

A former senior civil servant in Australia’s Attorney General’s department, Robert Cornall, has been appointed to head an inquiry into this week’s violence at the center.

“Following the tragedy on Manus Island, the implementation of government policies regarding asylum-seekers must be reviewed,” said the Rt. Rev. Philip Huggins, chair of the Anglican Church of Australia’s Migrant and Refugee Working Group. “The government has a mandate to ‘stop the boats’, elaborating policies of the previous government. However, the implementation of these policies is causing great harm and is a matter of moral distress to many Australians.”

Huggins, the area bishop of the North West Region of the Diocese of Melbourne, said: “Implementation has involved children in detention centers; off-shore ‘processing’ which is really just holding asylum-seekers in crowded, sub-standard conditions without processing towards any kind of futures; and on-shore prescriptions, which drive asylum-seekers into poverty and depression without access to education or employment.

“It is the implementation of government policy which must be reviewed. A civilized government must be able to control its refugee intake without resort to measures of intentional cruelty.

“We have previously been a generous nation towards refugees. Refugees’ contributions have, thereafter, enriched our common wealth. Our own history tells us what blessings follow when the spirit and detail of the Refugee Convention is honored. Conscience cries out for a review of current implementation measures.”