Australia's proposed refugee ban is 'deliberately cruel'

Refugee crisis Credit Mikael Damkier via wwwshutterstockcom CNA Mikael Damkier via

The Australian government's proposed permanent ban on visas for refugees and asylum seekers who have recently arrived by boat drew strong criticism from a bishop who is a former refugee himself. 

"Seeking asylum even by boat is not illegal. It is a basic human right. Yet not content with demeaning them, the Australian government now wants to introduce laws that will ban them from ever coming here," Bishop Vincent Long of Parramatta said.

The bishop is the Australian Catholic Bishops' Delegate for Migrants and Refugees. He fled Vietnam by boat at a young age.

He spoke against the ban in a Nov. 7 statement on the media blog of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference.

For Bishop Long, the motives for the measures are "questionable at best and sinister at worst."

He cited the situations on Manus Island, located in northern Papua New Guinea, and the island Micronesian country of Nauru, where about 1,800 people have been indefinitely detained. Australian authorities typically remove refugees who arrive at the mainland to these islands, in the name of offshore processing.

"Domestic advocates and international agencies have been appalled by the conditions under which asylum seekers live and the effects on their health, spirits and self-respect," the bishop said. "To single out and punish further a small number of people who came by boat, even if they are found to meet the refugee definition is deliberately cruel and un-Australian. It betrays the tradition, status and character of the country that we are proud of – a richly resourced country with a big heart for migrants and refugees."

The ban would be in effect for a lifetime, even if a refugee were to establish himself in another country and try to revisit Australia decades later.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull spoke about the proposal Oct. 31 "the door to Australia is closed to those who seek to come here by boat with a people smuggler."

"That absolutely unflinching, unequivocal message has to be loud and clear," he told media.

Foreign Minister Julie Bishop cited the need to discourage dangerous boat trips.

"I will never forget 1,200 people that we know of drowned at sea coming to Australia under these people smuggling networks," she said, according to "We cannot have situations where people are drowning at sea."

Critics of the ban say it may violate the international refugee convention.

Bishop Long urged Australians to reject the "cruel and unnecessary measures" of banning the refugees from applying for visas. He asked political leaders to "resist this latest mean-spirited move against asylum seekers and to reclaim the reputation of a decent, humane and generous country."

"It is the kind of country that refugees like myself are indebted to and proud to call home," he said.

"We must find a more just, humane and effective way in dealing with the complex issues of seeking asylum and refugee protection."

On Manus Island, asylum seekers appear to suffer medical neglect, wasting and severe ill health, the Australian Medical Association has told a Senate inquiry.

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While the association said the medical accounts it received could not be independently verified, it accused Australia's Department of Immigration and Border Protection authorities of failing to respond to its inquiries in a timely and comprehensive way, the Sydney Morning Herald reports.

Health workers had until recently been under legal sanctions that barred them from speaking about conditions on Manus Island. The medical association's president Dr. Michael Gannon said there was an "inappropriate degree of secrecy" about the department's attitude to asylum seeker patients, as well as "hyperbole from refugee advocates."

"It's actually very hard to get accurate clinical information," Dr. Gannon said.

There are presently negotiations underway to resettle the refugees, possibly in Canada and the United States.

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