CHURCH groups were canvassed about the government’s tough new asylum seeker policies, including whether banning asylum seekers living in the community from working would be sufficiently punitive to prevent others from making the journey to Australia, sources say.
The discussions reportedly took place in recent weeks, creating an ethical dilemma for groups working to improve the lives of asylum seekers.
The groups were believed to be highly uncomfortable with being asked to advise the department on measures that would make the lives of asylum seekers more difficult.
The government on Wednesday revealed how its ”no advantage” policy would work for asylum seekers who came to Australia by boat after August 13 and who were not sent to Nauru or Manus Island.
With more than 7500 people arriving since August 13 and the detention network under great strain, the Immigration Minister, Chris Bowen, said thousands of people would be released into the community while their asylum claims were processed. But anyone who arrived after August 13 would be unable to work for as long as five years and would be eligible only for 89 per cent of the lowest level of the dole.
Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre said the discussions had presented an ethical dilemma to church organisations.
”What’s been happening over the past few weeks is that when the Immigration Department realised that the offshore horror show wasn’t stopping the boats, they’ve been casting around for ways in which to make life in Australia more uncomfortable, frightening and verging on persecution,” Ms Curr said.
”They went to the agencies and said: ‘How could the community detention model, with the no advantage principle, how could we apply no advantage to community detention?’
”Because they realised that the detention centres are filling up and that eventually we’ll have to release people.
”It’s a real ethical dilemma.”
The discussions were confirmed by two other sources but a spokesman for the Immigration Department said: ”It’s not our practice to comment on discussions that may or may not have taken place between DIAC [the Department of Immigration and Citizenship] and other organisations.”
He confirmed, however, that people sent to Nauru and Manus Island will be processed in a separate scheme to those on Australian soil.
”The ones that are already on Nauru and Manus, and the ones that will be transferred there in the future, their claims for protection will be processed within those countries,” he said.
Asked if that meant they would be processed by Nauruan and Papua New Guinean officials, the spokesman said: ”Correct.”
Mr Bowen said on Wednesday that Manus Island was a more appropriate place to send families than Nauru.
Save the Children, which will work with families and children on the island, said it was deeply opposed to mandatory detention, particularly of children, but said it was important children were cared for while they were in detention.
Meanwhile, department figures show that more than one in eight Sri Lankans who have landed in Australia since August 13 have been sent home, the majority against their will.
Another 40 Sri Lankan men were flown home against their will on Thursday, taking to 466 the number of Sri Lankans returned involuntarily since August 13. Since August 13, more than 570 Sri Lankans have returned home – voluntarily and involuntarily.
with Daniel Flitton
This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.