The Vatican appeals in vain for decency towards refugees. John Menadue

Jun 17, 2013


On June 6, the Vatican emphasized that governments protect refugees. It said that the world’s governments must give ‘absolute priority’ to the fundamental rights of refugees.

Cardinal Veglio who heads the Pontifical Council for Migrants said:

‘Protection must be guaranteed to all who live under conditions of forced migration, taking into account their specific means, which can vary from a residency permit for victims of human trafficking to the possibility of being granted citizenship for those who are stateless.’ He added that policies in this area must be ‘guided by the principle of the centrality and dignity of every human person’.

He spoke with ‘dismay that governments have adopted policies that subject refugees to confined detention, internment in refugee camps and having their travel and their rights to work restricted’. Those comments were not directed specifically to Australia but they apply to almost everything we do to humiliate refugees whether in respect of detention, travel or work rights.

He referred specifically to the 4 million people who have been driven from their homes by the fighting in Syria.

Despite the Vatican pleas, Cardinal Pell and Tony Abbott, our Jesuit-trained leader of the coalition, have said nothing in response.

In Australia we tie ourselves in political knots over 20,000 asylum seekers who come by boat. But countries bordering Syria have opened their borders, hearts and pockets to help desperate people fleeing Syria. The number of “registered” Syrian refugees now stands at 1.6 million. Lebanon has taken 520,000 refugees, Jordan 475,000, Turkey 376,000, Iraq 159,000 and Egypt 79,000. There are also an estimated additional 2 million unregistered refugees. About a quarter of the population of Lebanon are now refugees who have fled Syria.

The generous hospitality of these relatively poor countries stands in stark contrast to our miserable and selfish hostility to the very small number of people who are in desperate need and come to our borders. Inevitably some of the people spilling out of Syria will come to our shores. On the basis of their rhetoric to date Tony Abbott and Scott Morrison will call them illegals and criminals.

Last week the UNHCR and 124 other organizations launched the largest humanitarian appeal ever for $US2.9 billion to support Syrian refugees. What a reflection it is on us that in our latest federal budget the Australian government proposes to spend $A2.9 billion on refugee detention services! What a perverse and selfish country we have become!

The government shows very little leadership on this unfolding human tragedy in Syria and elsewhere. It consults focus groups rather than its own conscience. The coalition sees it as a political opportunity to exploit fear.

Shame on Australia.

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