Lisa Beech, Caritas
30 May 2012
As the Catholic Church prepares to celebrate the Day of Prayer for Refugees and Migrants on June 17, Parliament is considering new immigration legislation which proposes mandatory detention for groups of asylum seekers.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand says we need to heed the warning of Australian Bishops that such detention is ‘deeply destructive of human dignity’.
The Immigration Amendment Bill would allow the detention under a ‘mass arrival warrant’ of groups of 11 or more asylum seekers arriving together. Detention would be for an initial period of six months, which could be renewed for ongoing periods of 28 days. At present in New Zealand, most asylum seekers who claim refugee status live in the community while their claims are assessed, unless there are specific security concerns.
Because of our geographic isolation, few asylum seekers reach New Zealand shores. Most New Zealanders are more familiar – and comfortable – with the concept of resettling refugees from the countries where they first seek asylum.
However, the primary purpose of the Refugee Convention, to which New Zealand is a signatory, is to provide for the ability of people fleeing persecution to cross borders to ask for help.
Both resettled refugees coming under New Zealand’s refugee quota, and asylum seekers arriving to ask for refuge are Convention refugees. However, the political debate around the Immigration Amendment Bill is labelling asylum-seeking refugees as ‘queue-jumpers’, ‘illegal migrants’ and ‘people-smugglers’.
None of these descriptions is true of the vast majority of people seeking refuge from violence and persecution.
Australia’s Catholic Bishops have objected to the mandatory detention of refugees in Australia for more than a decade. Detention beyond the minimum time necessary to carry out security and identity checks is ‘gravely injurious’ and unjustifiable, they say.
Submissions close on 8 June 2012. For more on this visit www.caritas.org.nz.