As Christmas approaches the St Vincent de Paul Society National Council of Australia has called for a complete overhaul of Australia’s attitude to refugees in the New Year.
Chief Executive, Dr John Falzon said: “We are saddened by the latest decision to re-direct international aid funding, especially while Australia continues to subject asylum seekers to such cruel and punitive conditions. We had hoped that by the end of 2012 there would have been a shift in the approach to refugee policy. Each day, however, brings us more bad news.”
St Vincent de Paul Society President, Anthony Thornton said the mental health toll on asylum seekers in detention was unconscionable.
“Our members have witnessed widespread depression and mental anguish. The suicide attempt rate for men in detention is 41 times higher than the national average,” Mr Thornton said.
“The St Vincent de Paul Society strongly opposes any move to keep people in detention for longer than is absolutely necessary. Asylum seekers need to be given prompt, fair hearings of their refugee claims, with due legal process and natural justice. This must include access to appeal tribunals in all cases.”
The Society has recognised the government’s progress in reducing the average period of immigration detention to a two-year low of 74 days (as at October 2012), and the government’s commitment to increase the number of humanitarian program places it offers to 20,000.
“However, we maintain the position that the policy of indefinite mandatory immigration detention of people who pose no danger to the community is unjust, and ultimately increases social exclusion for the vast majority of those asylum seekers when they are found to be refugees and are resettled in Australia. Neither is it adequate to leave people in the community without sufficient support and with no right to work,” Dr Falzon said.
“We also remain deeply concerned with the number of children currently in Australian immigration detention, and in Alternative Places of Detention (APOD).”
This week the St Vincent de Paul Society contributed a submission to the Parliamentary Joint Committee on Human Rights examination of the Migration (Regional Processing) package of legislation and to the Senate Legal and Constitutional Affairs Committee’s Inquiry into the Migration Amendment (Unauthorised Maritime Arrivals and Other Measures) Bill. The submissions are available to the public on the Society’s website. Suicide Prevention Australia, cited in Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network, Final Report (2012) 104 (at aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=immigration_detention_ctte/immigration_detention/report/report.pdf).
 Suicide Prevention Australia, cited in Joint Select Committee on Australia’s Immigration Detention Network, Final Report (2012) 104 (at aph.gov.au/Parliamentary_Business/Committees/Senate_Committees?url=immigration_detention_ctte/immigration_detention/report/report.pdf).