Refugee reality

The Uniting Church urges Government to lead by example

Chip Henriss

As the issue of asylum seekers once again dominates Australian news headlines, the Uniting Church has urged the government to focus efforts on developing a regional solution that protects the basic human rights and dignity of people fleeing persecution.

UCA national president, Rev Alistair Macrae, expressed dismay that issues surrounding the movement of asylum seekers were once again being confused with issues of border security.

“Everyone has a right under international law to seek asylum.

“As a stable and wealthy country in the region, Australia has a responsibility to lead by example in providing protection to refugees.

“The numbers of asylum seekers who come to Australia by boat are very small indeed and need to be kept in perspective,” Mr Macrae said.

This year, approximately 1700 asylum seekers have arrived by boat. This compares to 5500 in 2001 and 3000 in 2002. In Italy 36,000 have arrived by boat, the US 49,000, Canada 36,000.

Asylum seeker numbers rose in Australia by 19 per cent in 2008 compared with 2007. Italy in that period had a 122 per cent increase, Norway 121 per cent, Netherlands 89 per cent.

Last week in Melbourne, a Monday afternoon vigil was held in support of asylum seekers at Federation Square.

The vigil included speakers from the Tamil Community, church and political leaders and was organised by the Refugee Action Collective.

Speakers agreed that, unlike recent media reports, the facts of the issue needed to be discussed rationally.

Kanchana Senthuran, president of the Australian Tamil Congress, provided a first-hand account of life as a Tamil in Sri Lanka and urged the Australian Government to impose sanctions on the Sri Lankan Government.

Others also urged Australia to take a more proactive role in ensuring human rights were enforced.

General Secretary of the Victorian Council of Churches, Theo Mackaay, said refugees were a product of war and Australians needed to work to prevent wars.

“As long as there are wars, there will be people fleeing from the conflict. If we will not join with others in the international community to put an end to wars, then we have to accept that there will be refugees, and that they will come to Australia,” Mr Mackaay said.

Although the number of refugees attempting to reach Australia by boat is quite small, especially when compared with those arriving by plane, media reports continue to distort facts regarding numbers and the cost to Australian taxpayers.

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