Human rights priorities

Human rights priorities

Richard Congram

According to our bishops the Australian public and federal politicians are guilty of violating the human rights of people seeking refugee status who arrive unlawfully by boat.

An extraordinarily melodramatic statement issued by the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference on 8 May 2014 accuses us of dehumanising those people and with complicity in "institutional cruelty".

It virtually indicts us for selfishness, racism and xenophobia suggesting that we would not be so inhumane if the would-be immigrants were Westerners rather than non-whites who are mostly of "other" religious and cultural backgrounds.

Curiously, the statement also mentions that our politicians who deliberately make and implement the allegedly cruel policy, somehow are themselves not cruel people.

Well may the bishops then ask: "How can this be so?".

The statement asserts that most who arrive unlawfully are fleeing their homelands "where there is no life worth living".

Certainly that is true in many cases, but a very hard life in extreme poverty and disadvantage is not the same as being gravely persecuted and/or killed, which properly defines the term refugee.

Some who claim to be genuine refugees have left behind wives and children entirely vulnerable and unprotected. In the circumstances one might reasonably wonder whether the averred critical danger is real.

It is obvious that very many arriving illegally are simply seeking preferential entry into a richer and more generous society than their own.

If granted asylum they displace long-suffering genuine refugees living in foul camps awaiting resettlement.

In addition there surely are others who constitute a serious threat to law and order and even to our security and safety. The difficulty lies in separating the wheat from the chaff.

Those of us who support the current policies reject the assertion that people who come here unlawfully are callously mistreated.

Our people are not saints, but neither are they torturers and persecutors.

The bishops conclude with an appeal to all people to spurn the "dark forces" behind the current policies. With respect, there are much darker forces behind much more heinous injustices in play today.

For example, in the name of God fanatical Islamists are committing unspeakable atrocities such as the recent crucifixions of Christians in Syria and the abduction of hundreds of defenceless schoolgirls in Nigeria.

Surely such monstrous acts warrant condemnation far more than do some alleged shortcomings in Australia's immigration policy. It is easy to be harshly critical of actions by the people and government of a true democracy like Australia.

It is another thing to denounce a not-so-soft but infinitely more evil target. Nevertheless that is what fidelity to the Church and its Founder calls for.

Mosman, NSW

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