2 March 2024

Call to improve asylum policies after 19 people released from detention

Bishop Philip Huggins protests cruel detention policies. Picture: Elspeth Kernebone

Jenan Taylor

5 April 2022

Further humane policies are needed despite the release of at least 19 refugees and asylum seekers from detention last week, according to one Melbourne bishop.

Bishop Philip Huggins welcomed the detainees’ release and said it was a move in the right direction but that government policies should be developed with the intention to heal and never to harm.

He said the asylum seekers’ release, with no statement about why they had been selected, was arbitrary.

“There’s a certain cruelty to the randomness of it,” Bishop Huggins said. “Those who remain in detention don’t know whether that’s the end of it or whether there’ll be another release.”

He said the refugees needed to have clarity that they could stay in Australia and that they would have what was needed in order to live, including access to Medicare, training and education.

“They should be able to find the means to settle after years of this level of uncertainty. They should be able to settle in Australia, if there is no security issue about them,” Bishop Huggins said.

Read more: We need to talk about the kind of society Australia wants to be

Amnesty International’s refugee coordinator Dr Graham Thom said a number of key things needed to be addressed including mandatory detention and offshore processing.

Ministerial discretion is still the only way for many to get out of detention and there is no way for people to challenge immigration, even in the courts.

Dr Thom pointed to the harshness of such policy. He said a young Iranian man in detention in NSW who had come to Australia seeking protection had taken his own life, recently, because he was facing indefinite detention. 

Bridging visas must be renewed at the discretion of the minister every six months, Dr Thom said. “They have work rights, but no social support. And if you only have a six-month visa, who will give you a job?” 

He said temporary protection visas and safe haven visas had to be renewed every three to five years and the people on them would never be able to get a permanent visa and see their families again.

“Abolishing temporary protection visas or at least providing a pathway to permanency is something both political parties need to look at,” Dr Thom said.

Bishop Huggins also noted that current temporary visa arrangements were harsh and said they were based on the misconception that that there would be a third country for refugees to go to or that they would be able to go home.

The bishop is a member of the Set Them Free coalition of multifaith leaders who are campaigning for refugees and asylum seekers.

Read more: Why two bishops locked themselves in a cage this afternoon

He said they had approached both the Coalition and federal Labor about building policies that heal rather than harm.

In addition to their advocacy, the campaigners persisted with prayer, Bishop Huggins said.

“Our policy should always be to heal and never to harm and we should take that principle into how we construct our national policies in a range of settings. We should ask whether it would bring healing and wholeness or harm. If we do think like that, we’ll be like the Easter people we’re called to be,” he said.

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