Shelter from the Storm: UCA Statement on Asylum Seeker and Refugee Policy

August 24, 2015

The 14th Assembly of the Uniting Church has adopted a new refugee and asylum seeker policy, calling on the Australian Government to adopt policies which genuinely seek to support, rather than demonise, asylum seekers and refugees.

In adopting a proposal from UnitingJustice, the Assembly has also called for –

 . The human rights of asylum seekers and refugees to be upheld at all times.

. Australia’s response to asylum seekers and refugees to be based on humanitarian principles.

. The abandonment of the policy of mandatory and indefinite detention for asylum seekers.

. Australia’s policies and legislation to refer particularly to the rights and needs of child asylum seekers and refugees.

. The conditions of detention to be humane and uphold people’s dignity.

. Australia to support and uphold the legal rights of all asylum seekers, including a fair, transparent and timely process for assessing people’s refugee claims.

. The provision of adequate psychological, social and medical care, and access to education for all asylum seekers

. Australia to take a lead in the development of a genuine regional approach and take a global approach to the protection of asylum seekers and refugees and;

. People whose refugee claims have been rejected to be treated justly and humanely.

 In its proposal, UnitingJustice argued that as Christians ­ called to love our neighbours, welcome strangers, challenge unjust systems, and offer refuge and care to those who are marginalised and in exile ­ the Church has a particular responsibility in Australian society when it comes to responding to issues related to asylum seekers and refugees.

It said policies relating to asylum seekers should be driven by bi­partisan commitments both to a humanitarian response focussed on protection needs, and to upholding our obligations under international law.

“As one of the wealthiest, safest and most secure countries in the world, Australia should do its fair share to ease people’s sufferings in the context of what is a global problem,” the report said.

“We must not shift our responsibilities to poor and developing countries.”

UnitingJustice Reference Committee Chair Rosemary Dawson said all people were well aware of the present plight of asylum seekers and refugees in Australia.

“We have heard reports from Amnesty International and the Human Rights Commission about the appalling conditions in detention centres and the devastating effects of prolonged detention, particularly on children,’’ she said.

Ms Dawson said she wished such motions did not need to be made.

She explained that the proposal aimed to provide a sound understanding of the situation and concrete suggestions for a way forward.

“It enables us to open our eyes, our ears and hearts to their [asylum seekers and refugees] story.”

In seconding the proposal, UnitingJustice Reference Committee member Rosemary Hudson-Miller said there were currently more than 50 million refugees around the world ­ the highest since World War II. The number Australia accepted was small compared with many other nations.

The proposal was passed. It can be read here