This weekend marks the sixth anniversary of former Prime Minister Kevin Rudd’s announcement that no person seeking asylum by boat would ever be resettled in Australia.
Every single person arriving after that date was to be subjected to indefinite detention on Manus Island, PNG, or in the Republic of Nauru, under ‘processing’ arrangements between the Australian Government and those Pacific states.
Six years on, roughly 800 refugees and people seeking asylum still remain trapped on Manus Island and Nauru.
International agencies have been appalled by the conditions under which they live and the effects on their health, spirits and self-respect. Pope Francis with whom the bishops of Australia discussed the refugee crisis at their recent Ad Limina visit in Rome is also deeply concerned. The human costs on the detainees are mounting by the day. Already 12 young men have died over these past six years and many more have attempted self-harm out of utter despair.
As a bishop and a former boat person, I deplore the detention of our brothers and sisters on Nauru and Manus Island. While recognising the effort of the government to find a durable solution, I say with many fellow Australians that enough is enough. The harsh treatment of this relatively small number of people – most of whom have been proven genuine refugees- over the past six years is more than a shame, a disgrace, or something that we can say ‘not in our name’ to.
We call on our government and political leaders to act in accordance with our honourable tradition and put an end to a deplorable situation. It is time to find an alternate and conscionable solution. It is time to bring them here or to New Zealand, which has offered a helping hand. Those refugees accepted for entry to the US could then migrate when their vetting processes are complete. The other refugees should then be able get on with their lives here in safety. Those who are not refugees can be held here in secure detention until they are returned home.
It is time for us to reclaim Australia as a responsible world citizen, a wealthy and resourceful nation capable to rise to new challenges as it did throughout history –the kind of Australia that refugees like myself are living testament to. It is time to re-enshrine the best of our traditions with policies that reflect our solidarity, human decency and care for the most vulnerable.
Advance Australia Fair!
Most Reverend Vincent Long Van Nguyen OFM Conv
Bishop of Parramatta. Chair, Bishops Commission for Social Justice: Service and Mission, Australian Catholic Bishops Conference