The heart of the Gospel is God’s passionate love for each human being. Jesus expressed that love in his care for the ill, the poor, the stranger and for those disregarded by society. He invited his followers to reach out in love to strangers, and to shape a society that respects the human dignity of the poor out of its solidarity with them.
People who come to Australia seeking asylum are among the most disregarded and most vulnerable of our brothers and sisters. Respect for their human dignity and health and wellbeing requires that they are properly fed, sheltered, secure, provided with appropriate educational opportunities, receive medical care and have their claims adjudicated fairly within a reasonable timeframe.
The fundamental Catholic principles of respect for human dignity and of solidarity within and between nations that makes the flourishing of the weakest the concern of all, were embodied in the United Nations Convention on Refugees.
The 1951 Convention and its 1967 Protocol are the global legal instruments explicitly covering important aspects of asylum seekers’ rights and responsibilities of signatory countries during and post the refugee determination process. This instrument has helped to protect millions of people in a wide variety of situations.
Other relevant conventions to which Australia is a signatory include: the UN Declaration of Human Rights, UN Convention on the Rights of the Child, UN Convention Against Torture.
Global movements of people as a result of conflict and persecution demand a global response. Solidarity between nations in responding to the needs of refugees requires of Australia and other wealthy nations’ leadership, serious international negotiation, courage and a well-considered response in which the human dignity of those fleeing persecution is non-negotiable.
These principles have been developed to guide CAPSA’s activities.
- Australia should continue to work within the region and international context to lead a more humane, ordered response to processing the claims of people seeking asylum.
- All asylum seekers who make a claim on Australia must be processed with respect for their human dignity demanded by the UNHCR Convention on the Status of Refugees. Their claims for protection should be processed promptly and fairly.
- The principles of deterrence, by which the members of one group of people who have come to Australia to seek protection are treated harshly in order to modify the behaviour of others, should form no part of Australian policy.
- People seeking asylum should not be referred to as “illegal” or in other derogatory terms.
- People who come to Australia to seek protection should not be transferred from Australian territory to other nations for processing or protection unless there is a firm regional agreement assuring that they will have equivalent rights and support in the countries to which they are transferred, and that they will be promptly resettled if found to be refugees.
- Arbitrary or indefinite detention at any stage of the refugee determination process is unacceptable.
- People who seek asylum should live in the Australian community. Respect for their humanity demands that they have the right to work, access to basic services, and to some financial support if they cannot find work. The financial burden of their support should be accepted by the Government and not be shifted to the community sector.
- Children should not be held in detention in Australia or in offshore detention centres, but housed in the Australian community with the full range of services necessary for their welfare. Young unaccompanied children and adults, families with children and those with mental and physical health issues should also be carefully supported when living in the community.
- In the Catholic tradition, if people are to live with dignity their family ties are essential. People should have the opportunity to be reunited with separated close family members promptly once they are found to be refugees.
- Those who have exhausted all appeals against rejection of their claims but who cannot be returned to their countries should not be compelled by destitution to return in keeping with the principle of non-refoulement. *
*Article 33 of the 1951 Convention relating to the Status of Refugees outlines the principle of non-refoulement. According to this principle, parties must not forcibly expel or return (refouler) a refugee to a situation where their life or freedom may be threatened on account of their race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion.