Manus shooting calls us to do better

29th May 2017

Fr Andy Hamilton SJ

In recent weeks we have been shown the suffering inflicted on people who seek protection in Australia. We should hold them in our hearts.

 The horror of the attack by PNG soldiers on refugees on Manus Island on Good Friday and the shameful attempt by Government to vilify the refugees have gradually become clear. The Government initially asserted that the shots were fired into the air, and that one person was wounded in the attack; we now know that shots were fired into the buildings and that nine people were wounded. We can imagine their terror.

The Minister initially implied that the occasion of the attack was the sexual abuse of a child by refugees. Now the Government confines itself to vague and unspecified imputations of abuse as the background.  We can imagine the helpless fury of the refugees at this smear. Now they face the closure of the Centre and being left by Australia to their fate.

Most Australians seem to be at one with both major parties in seeing nothing surprising nor regrettable in what has been done to these people.

In recent weeks, too, we have seen the suffering imposed on people in Australia waiting for their applications to be processed.  The Minister announced that all people seeking protection must lodge their applications by October or face deportation. He characterised them as ‘fake’ and as taking Australia for a ride.

This deadline causes enormous anxiety to the people seeking protection and the people themselves and on the lawyers who help them unaided.  The application forms are so complex that it would be difficult even for a native English speaker to complete them satisfactorily without legal assistance.  

The Minister’s denigration of the applicants for the delay ignored the government’s responsibility for freezing processing for some years and then inviting people to apply in stages. We can imagine people’s anxiety and disillusionment.

We can do better than this. We should let our parliamentary representatives know that it is unacceptable to treat our fellow human beings in this way.  We should also hold in our imagination and prayers the people made to suffer in this way, and support them in any way we can.