Uniting Church shocked at people swapping plans of Australia


source from unitingjustice.org,9 May 2011

The Uniting Church in Australia has today written to all Federal Labor parliamentarians, expressing its shock at the cruel and punitive plan to ‘swap’ refugees with Malaysia.

The Church’s National Director for justice, Rev. Elenie Poulos, said, “It is one of the truly low points in Australian politics that a Government has made a deal to trade people like commodities. It is shocking that they have reached this ‘people swap’ deal with a country with an appalling human rights record.

“Australia has a moral obligation to provide safety for as many people as we can. We also have international obligations under the Refugee Convention to assess the claims for protection of everyone who comes to us seeking safety, regardless of how they arrive. We should not be trading people and we should not be trading one set of obligations for another.”

President of the Uniting Church in Australia, Rev. Alistair Macrae said “a commitment to increase the numbers of refugees Australia accepts from countries in our region where people’s lives are at risk is welcome – but engineering a swap to punish people who are exercising their right to seek asylum is a punitive attempt to score cheap political points.

“Malaysia is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention and it has a record of human rights abuses against asylum seekers and refugees,” he said.

Rev. Macrae has asked the government to clarify their position on treatment of asylum seekers sent from Australia.

“The Government maintains that Malaysia has agreed to treat the asylum seekers sent from Australia better than they treat those already in Malaysia, but it has also said that asylum seekers sent from Australia will not receive preferential treatment. We ask the Government to make clear what kind of treatment people will receive?” said Rev. Macrae.

The letter includes a number of questions the Church would like answered:

  • How will the 800 people be chosen?
  • Will children, families and unaccompanied minors be sent to Malaysia or will single men continue to bear the brunt of Australia’s damaging policies?
  • How will they be supported in Malaysia?
  • How will their safety be guaranteed?
  • Has Malaysia agreed to improve its treatment of all asylum seekers and refugees or just the 800 sent from Australia?
  • There are 92,000 refugees in Malaysia – who will choose who comes to Australia and on what basis?

Rev. Poulos said, “since Tampa, the politicisation of asylum seekers in Australia has continued to feed a race to the bottom, creating brutal policies and a whole mythology around the seeking of asylum that dehumanises vulnerable people, undermines our reputation as a country that seeks to uphold the human rights of all people and erodes people’s capacity to empathise with others in need.

“People have been fleeing violence and persecution since the beginning of human history. It has never been an orderly process and never will be. It appears, however, that we have lost the capacity to empathise, to imagine what it would be like for us, what lengths we might go to, to save our lives and secure a hopeful future for our children.

The Christian faith is not alone among religious traditions in placing at the core of its moral teachings the principles of welcoming the stranger, caring for the neighbour in need and treating others as we ourselves would want to be treated. It is impossible to imagine any of us who are safe and secure here in Australia being prepared to be ‘swapped’ under the conditions of the Government’s Malaysian deal,” said Rev. Poulos.

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