Newsletter 2: 19 February 2019

Dear Colleagues,

Last week you may have read of the award presented in Geneva to a 25 year old Sudanese asylum seeker, Abdul Aziz Muhamat, who has been detained on Manus island since the age of 20. Abdul was allowed to fly to Switzerland to receive the 2019 Martin Ennals Award Laureate, which annually honours individuals who have shown outstanding commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights, often working under threat of imprisonment, torture or worse. Whilst there has been recent debate in the Federal Parliament and amendments to legislation, which will provide an evacuation process to Australian health facilities for asylum seekers with serious medical conditions who are currently on Nauru and Manus islands, the overall management of those detention facilities by the Australian Government continues to attract international criticism. Here at home, our Catholic Bishops have represented the thoughts of many Australians, urging our elected representatives to find new ways of assisting people seeking refuge in Australia.

Just before Christmas last year, the Chair of the Australian Catholic Bishop’s Conference, Archbishop Mark Coleridge wrote a statement1, which provides helpful reflections on the relevant issues, which are important to share with our school communities and local Members of Parliament. Archbishop Mark’s statement included the following important observations:

• Offshore detention is a crisis that confronts our country.

• We need to be asking if we Australians could be more generous in the number of people in humanitarian need we receive each year as part of our orderly migration program.

• We should only turn back boats by means that are legal, transparent, and safe. We should always ensure that anyone on such a boat is not directly fleeing persecution in Indonesia.

• There is a need for prompt resettlement of people proven to be refugees.

• After five years, we have to ask:

i. If our Government is unable to find a home for these people in another country, should we not provide them with a home in Australia or New Zealand (which has generously offered places) while at the same time strengthening the police, military and diplomatic measures to ensure that boats remain stopped?

ii. Should we not do more to co-operate with our regional neighbours to care for those seeking processing and security in our region, and to provide a permanent home for more of these persons who are fleeing inhumane conditions in their home countries?

• We ask our politicians to put an end to the intolerable situation on Nauru and Manus Island endured by asylum-seekers whose plight continues to be our responsibility.

• We cannot afford to have the plight of these people made even worse by making their futures the subject of bitter electoral disputation in the year ahead. Enough is enough. Let’s find them a home.

An important Marist ministry for young people who are among the most marginalised in Australian society is Marist180, formerly known as Marist Youth Care. For some years the Federal Government provided financial support for unaccompanied minors seeking asylum, and Marist180 was a pivotal agency in the scheme, which was discontinued by the Government. Only minors were eligible for the funding, so asylum seekers once post school, desiring further education at University or TAFE, were placed in a very difficult position. Several universities have been supportive and have accepted five young asylum seekers who were formerly part of the unaccompanied minors program as international students and have waived their fees. The young men have been able to continue their post school education for the past year due to the generous support of Marist180 and the Marist Brothers though the provision of a modest living allowance. This support will continue in the future and schools are invited to consider contributing to this worthy cause. For more information please contact Brother Chris Wills by email or phone. ( | 0407017774)

Sally Dillon