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Bishop of Parra writes to PM Rudd

October 27, 2009

Dear Mr Rudd,

The Diocese of Parramatta is home to a large number of asylum seekers, humanitarian refugees and a sizeable Sri Lankan population. That being the case, the current situation regarding the boatload of Sri Lankan asylum seekers returned to Indonesia is particularly worrying. 

Your government is to be congratulated on the important changes you have made to the situation of refugees and asylum seekers coming to Australia. The abolition of the temporary protection visa, the closing down of Manus Island and Nauru, and the elimination of charges for stays in detention centres have transformed the lives of people seeking asylum in our country. 

It would be a tragedy if these positive changes were to be undermined by an over-reaction to those accusing your government of being “soft” on asylum seekers. 

As you are aware around 250,000 internally displaced Tamils have been, for the past 5 months, segregated into camps in Sri Lanka with extremely poor facilities and limited access to aid from NGOs. Reports indicate increasing levels of desperation when faced with water shortages, sickness and limited food supplies. More. 

……..

Yours sincerely,  Bishop Kevin Manning, Bishop of Parramatta.

One Comment leave one →
  1. Australians for Tamil Justice permalink*
    October 27, 2009 8:22 pm

    16 October 2009

    Mr Kevin Rudd

    Prime Minister

    House of Representatives

    Parliament House

    CANBERRA ACT 2600

    Dear Mr Rudd,

    The Diocese of Parramatta is home to a large number of asylum seekers, humanitarian refugees and a sizeable Sri Lankan population. That being the case, the current situation regarding the boatload of Sri Lankan asylum seekers returned to Indonesia is particularly worrying.

    Your government is to be congratulated on the important changes you have made to the situation of refugees and asylum seekers coming to Australia. The abolition of the temporary protection visa, the closing down of Manus Island and Nauru, and the elimination of charges for stays in detention centres have transformed the lives of people seeking asylum in our country.
    It would be a tragedy if these positive changes were to be undermined by an over-reaction to those accusing your government of being “soft” on asylum seekers.
    As you are aware around 250,000 internally displaced Tamils have been, for the past 5 months, segregated into camps in Sri Lanka with extremely poor facilities and limited access to aid from NGOs. Reports indicate increasing levels of desperation when faced with water shortages, sickness and limited food supplies.
    I have been the recipient of many letters and phone calls from the Tamil community in Australia asking me to intervene on behalf of the Tamils in these camps. Such desperation is always a “push” factor when it comes to people making risky escapes from intolerable situations.

    Few would deny that the Sri Lankan Tamils are being persecuted, that their freedom is curtailed and that, in many cases, their lives are in danger. It was most unfortunate that you described them as “illegal immigrants” when they are, in fact, seeking asylum – a fundamental human right.

    Returning the recent boatload of Sri Lankan asylum seekers to Indonesia places legitimate asylum seekers at the mercy of a poor country with few resources, already over-stretched trying to deal with hundreds of abandoned asylum seekers eking out a tenuous existence in Indonesian coastal towns.

    Article 33 of the Refugee Convention of 1951 says:

    “No Contracting State shall expel or return … a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.”

    Australia is a signatory to that convention. We are a country richly endowed with a strong political system, many resources, a harmonious, multicultural population and considerable wealth. We can afford to be generous, welcoming and hospitable.
    From a global perspective we accept very few asylum seekers. This year we have received around 1500 boat arrivals in comparison with a country such as Italy which, in 2008, took in 36,000.
    Taking a stand against people smugglers is a laudable pursuit but not at the expense of desperate people fleeing injustice. The crisis is not so great that we need to turn people away.
    This is an opportunity for you and your government to make a stand against those who stir up xenophobia, pedal panic and oppose the rights of all people to seek asylum when faced with persecution.

    What is needed is for you, Senator Evans and the government to resist pressures for more draconian responses to asylum seekers and continue with humane reforms to our asylum and refugee policies so that they comply with the standards set by international human rights treaties and measure up to the Australian values of compassion, “a fair go” and hospitality.

    I would be most happy to have a further discussion with you around issues of asylum seekers and refugees.
    Yours sincerely,

    Bishop Kevin Manning,

    Bishop of Parramatta.

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