20 June, 2016

Ahead of the upcoming  Federal Election, the St Vincent de Paul Society is calling on all sides of politics to support a more just and humane response to asylum seekers.

World Refugee Day is a global event that is each year held on 20 June.  

“World Refugee Day celebrates the positive contributions refugees make to Australia, and also provides an opportunity to reflect on our unjust treatment of asylum seekers and refugees,” said Dr John Falzon, CEO of the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council.

The Society is urging political leaders and candidates to abandon the policy of offshore processing and fast-track processing, and focus on responses that uphold Australia’s human rights obligations domestically and internationally.

“We call on our political leaders to stop using the issue of asylum seekers to foster misunderstanding and social division, and instead use it as an opportunity to get on with the job of fulfilling Australia’s commitment under the Refugee Convention to treat people humanely, process applications for asylum onshore, and promote the better treatment of asylum seekers in our region,” said Dr Falzon.

“The mandatory and indefinite detention of persecuted and vulnerable people in offshore detention, and in situations that compromise their safety and well-being, is a stain on our national character.

“We accept that there should be identity, health and security checks for asylum seekers. But we oppose mandatory and indefinite detention, especially in isolated or offshore locations such as Christmas Island, Nauru or Manus Island.”

Dr Falzon urged the incoming government to pursue genuine regional agreements on processing and protection that would break the business of people smuggling without breaking the bodies and spirits of asylum seekers.

He also criticised the ‘fast-track’ process, which was introduced in 2014 and applies to asylum seekers who arrived by boat between 13 August 2012 and 1 January 2014.

The process narrows the definition of an asylum seeker, imposes strict time limits for lodging claims, and removes the right to an independent review.

At the same time, the withdrawal of funding for legal assistance has left asylum seekers attempting to navigate this complex process without legal representation, and without translating and interpreting services.

“The so-called ‘fast-track’ process is a grossly unfair system that denies asylum seekers the right to have their claim heard properly, and ultimately risks denying legitimate asylum seekers' protection”, Dr Falzon said.

“The fast-track process should be suspended immediately and a fair and timely assessment process of assessment should be applied to all people irrespective of how they came here.

“People seeking our protection should have access to affordable independent legal advice, with translation and interpreting services, to assist them in making an application. And asylum seekers found to be refugees should be given permanent protection.”

The words of Australia’s national anthem, ‘with courage let us all combine’, is the key theme for this year’s Refugee Week.

“Yet what we are yet to see on this issue is courage from our political leaders,” Dr Falzon added.

“We need political courage, leadership and a vision for a better and more humane approach that we as a nation have shown in the past we are capable of. 

“Political expediency, misinformation and deliberate fear-mongering are not a foundation for a just, compassionate and durable response to asylum seekers fleeing persecution or war.

“We call upon the new Government and the new Parliament to abolish indefinite, mandatory detention both here and offshore, and to overturn the ‘fast-track’ assessment process as a matter of urgency after the election on 2 July.”


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