Tapping the wells of compassion that exist in the nation

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In the last week two significant statements about people detained on Manus Island and on Nauru have appeared.

Contrasts a free child playing on the beach with a detained child sitting forlornly behind a fence. Cartoon by Fiona KatauskasThe Australian Catholic bishops issued a statement deploring Australian treatment of these vulnerable people, declaring that enough is enough, and endorsing the campaign to bring them here. It pledged the cooperation of Catholic health, welfare and educational agencies to care for them pending their final settlement.

Later Island of Despair, the Amnesty report on conditions on Nauru, was published. It joined a series of other independent reports on conditions on Nauru and Manus Island. It gave instances of the failure of a duty of care to the people detained there, the deterioration of their mental and physical health and the brutal culture that enfolded them. The Amnesty report claimed that the Australian government was responsible for 'a system deliberately set up to cause harm to people'.

The response of the government has been to deny the findings, to attribute them to unsubstantiated claims by people who are detained and by organisations advocating for them, and to insist that all is well. It has not responded to the statement or to the offer made by the bishops. Likewise, the Opposition has remained all but silent, as yet another wave of horrific revelations have been uncovered.

This ritual dance of visits and reports by independent humanitarian groups, blanket denial by government spokespersons and subsequent attempts to silence criticism and more critical reports has gone on for years. It has corroded trust in government and in agencies involved in Nauru and Manus Island. It poses the question, Should we believe the government, whose assertions that all is well are constantly undercut by new reports of abuse, despair and harm, or give credence to independent overseas visitors who have seen and talked to people in Nauru and Manus Island?

Few would believe the government and its spokespersons, from the Prime Minister down. Even many of those in favour of the government's policy would regard its ritual disavowals as pure spin.

In a democracy, it is unhealthy for the government to be routinely mistrusted and disbelieved. In any society it is unhealthy for women, children and men in its care to be imprisoned indefinitely without trial, and to live in conditions where mental and physical illness breed and where compassion has no play. For the self-respect of any nation it is unhealthy to have credible accusations of the use of torture as an instrument of policy levelled against it.

The bishops are right to say that enough is enough. For the people who have languished on Nauru and Manus Island, enough has long been more than enough. A policy that deliberately inflicts harm on one group of people to deter others from coming to Australia is ethically obnoxious. Given the success of the government in stopping boats it is also superfluous. At a time when the government is prepared to cut costs at the expense of the most vulnerable in society, it is a flagrant luxury. It is now time to bring the people detained offshore to Australia, where any necessary processing can be done. They must live in the community.

 

"For the self-respect of any nation it is unhealthy to have credible accusations of the use of torture as an instrument of policy levelled against it."

 

The bishops have promised the resources of Catholic organisations to help educate the children, care for the health and meet other needs of the people who are detained. This would be coordinated by the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA). Many Catholic parishes and groups have also expressed themselves willing to help.

When a significant sector of the community is ready to help care for vulnerable people, it is proper to allow them to do so. The asylum seeker detention regime has become foetid because it privileges deterrence over care, control over responsibility and exclusion over invitation. It is time for us to look to community groups that know about responsibility, care and invitation. The disaster that are the regimes on Manus Island and Nauru demonstrate the harm done to people and nations by government policies that shut out compassion. It is time for the government to draw on the wells of compassion that exist within the nation.

 


Samuel Dariol Samuel Dariol is a social and environmental activist and coordinator of the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum.

Cartoon by Fiona Katauskas

Topic tags: Samuel Dariol, Malcolm Turnbull, asylum seekers, Manus Island, Nauru


 

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Other churches have made similar offers, Tasmania has offered, Regional cities have offered - Please, bring them here so we can start to help them heal.
Sandy | 19 October 2016


Thank you Samuel for your article ... I join with you in prayerful solidarity in the work for humanity and justice that you are doing. I am involved in Brisbane in an ecumenical group "Love Makes A Way". Without losing heart, without losing hope, may we in solidarity continue to hear the call of the Gospel "To Welcome the Stranger" .. Peace and All Good, MIke Campbell [LMAW - Brisbane]
Michael Campbell | 20 October 2016


While every cowardly media outlet continues the lie of people smugglers we will torture the victims of the lies.
Marilyn | 20 October 2016


If for no other reason, the fact that we have been using and abusing the people on Manus and Nauru for as much as 3 years, to deter others, is sufficient reason to acknowledge that we owe them something. I.e., the right to be helped by the volunteers in Australia to be brought here and be allowed to make both themselves and the nation more prosperous.
Robert Liddy | 21 October 2016


Thank you Samuel for such a clear statement of the situation. Very pleasing to know our Church is prepared to do what our government is not.
Jo Mercer | 21 October 2016


The belated recognition of the needs of these vulnerable people is welcome. Let's hope the Bishops now begin to apply this same recognition and direct support to the needs of all the vulnerable people their own church personnel have seriously harmed yet who are still denied this same recognition. We await.
Jennifer Herrick | 21 October 2016


Everything you say is unfortunately true Samuel. I wonder if Dutton has even visited these dreadful centres. Turnbull denies the rapes and physical abuse. He dismisses the self harm and Amnesty and the UN reports as exagerations. Dutton accuses the media of "offering up free advice " as counterproductive. As if he were the font of all wisdom.He stridently proclaims the offshore processing as a feather in Liberals cap. One thing is certain. Whether hes walking out on the apology to the stolen generations or attacking his critics on offshore processing, Dutton has revealed himself to be bankrupt when it comes to compassion. He is purely career focussed.
francis Armstrong | 21 October 2016


Whoa what now? You want to bring them to Australia so they can be brought into the Catholic faith? Is that what is behind your compassion? Forgive me if I am cynical. I seem to have heard all that missionary stuff before.And the abuses that went with it.
duncan hackett | 22 October 2016


Samuel, you have written my thoughts so very passionately and eloquently. I would love to see you on Q and A . I watched the Four Corners program last Monday with dismay but not surprise. I was also so very sad to hear comments by Peter Dutton on a radio station in Sydney condemning the ABC for the program. To quote the interviewer who I can't remember but I think was Ray Hadley "the lunatics are in charge of the lunatic asylum". This relentless criticism of people acting decently and humanely to other human beings makes me pessimistic that we can change the government and opposition 's policies. I hope I am wrong. Sending you loving energy for the work you are doing. X
Diane Johnstone | 22 October 2016


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