Uniting Church President Alistair Macrae’s recent visit to Christmas Island has reinforced his resolve to continue campaigning for the closure of its de-humanising refugee detention centre.
He recently attended a church leaders’ delegation to the island to explore how Australian religious, voluntary and not-for-profit organisations can help humanise the plight of refugees living in prison conditions while their asylum-seeking applications are processed.
Mr Macrae said although the government was making some inroads to improve the centre’s standards – and the nation is entitled to effectively manage our borders – such a place should not exist.
“The detention centre is a compound carved out of the tropical forest with high, razor-wired fences capable of carrying 50,000 volts of electricity.
“The asylum seekers are not criminals. Nor are they queue jumpers, nor do they enjoy luxurious accommodation. Far from it. Many of them have experienced darkness, persecution, death of family members and friends. All are sustained by the hope that new life awaits them in this country. In the meantime they exist in an anxious, fearful space.”
In the last six months, the centre’s refugees have risen from 600 to nearly 1800, largely due to the continuing war in Afghanistan and the huge number of displaced Tamils in Sri Lanka.
More than 90 of these are young people referred to as unaccompanied minors – children 18 years and younger who have arrived here on their own.
“The spike in boat arrivals in Australia represents the tiny tip of the massive worldwide refugee crisis. Countries in other parts of the world are looking askance at what they regard as a mean-spirited Australian response to the crisis.
“Compared with many other countries we are simply not carrying our share of the load.
“Let’s keep campaigning for closure of this facility as soon as possible, and in the meantime, for the immediate implementation of a policy that all children and family groups be housed on the mainland while their applications are being processed,” he said.