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The Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) and the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO) today welcomed moves by both of the major political parties towards a more humane treatment of asylum seekers.

Last Friday, 29th November, before these moves were announced, the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference had pressed for alleviation of the conditions of asylum seekers in detention and for the release of children from detention, preferably with their parents, or at the very least, with their mothers.

Bishop Patrick Dougherty, Chairman of the Bishops’ Committee for Migrants and Refugees, said today:  “The announcement of Labor’s new policy on refugees and asylum seekers and changes announced by Minister Ruddock to the Government’s detention policy represent an important first step to addressing the inhumane conditions of immigration detention.  These policy proposals show that the community is now ready to move beyond its current approach to processing arrivals to Australia.”

Bishop William Morris, ACSJC Chairperson said, “In August this year, the ACSJC with the Australian and NSW Conferences of Leaders of Religious Institutes launched The Humanitarian Program for People Seeking Protection in Australia.  Some of its proposals included the creation of a Commissioner for Refugees, independent of government, and faster immigration clearance for asylum seekers.  It is pleasing to note that the Labor policy has variations of these ideas.  In particular, the limit of detention to 90 days is welcomed, as is the intention to end the indefinite continuity of temporary protection visas.
“It is disappointing to note that the Labor policy proposes continuing the processing of boat people offshore, at the new high-security centre on Christmas Island, and does not provide access to the legal system” he said.

Bishop Dougherty said “The changes to the Government’s detention policy are positive for women and children and unaccompanied minors.  However, the ACMRO and ACSJC would be concerned about preserving family unity.  Living conditions in supervised hostels also need to be closely monitored”.

The Bishops concluded, “We see both Labor’s new policy and the proposed changes to the Government’s policy as providing opportunity for improvement to the current practices, while acknowledging the need for further discussion and improvement.”

The Australian Catholic Bishops, in their March 2002 Statement on Refugees and Asylum Seekers, expressed concern about preservation of family unity. ACSJC and ACMRO express the same concern.