WelCom News
A newspaper for the Wellington and Palmerston North Catholic Dioceses

Have compassion for refugees Aussies tell Kiwi parliamentarians

3 July 2012

The New Zealand government has attracted international attention with its refugee policies as the world focused on International Refugee Day, June 20 – for the wrong reasons.

Plans to lock-up refugees arriving in New Zealand in groups have drawn concern from across the Tasman.

The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO) has opposed the mandatory detention provisions in New Zealand’s Immigration Amendment Bill, in a written submission on the Bill currently before Parliament.

Speaking from experience in Australia, the office warns that indefinite mandatory detention is an unnecessarily harsh and inhumane way to treat human beings. It ultimately divides society, is ineffective in stopping boat journeys and has substantial economic and moral costs.

Fr Maurizio Pettenà and Joe Moloney from the ACMRO – an Australian Catholic Bishops’ agency – visited last month to share the reality of mandatory detention of refugees.

On Thursday June 28, they addressed the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee considering the Bill and called on New Zealand to respond with compassion to asylum seekers escaping violence or war in their homelands.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is also concerned about the mass detention provisions in the Bill. But it says the government is sneaking through other significant changes to immigration policy under the cover of fear of ‘mass arrivals’.

These include the ability to suspend determination of refugee claims and restrictions on judicial review (the ability of New Zealand courts to review refugee cases).

Caritas Director Julianne Hickey says New Zealand has a reputation as a world leader in the resettlement of refugees. Many members of society from refugee and migrant backgrounds contribute to the richness and diversity of our communities.

‘We should be celebrating the welcome we give to desperate people fleeing persecution, not damaging their lives and our international reputation by adopting these unnecessary and harmful policies.’

Mrs Hickey says public and Parliamentary debate about the Bill needs to be based on a sound understanding of the Refugee Convention. 
‘The Convention specifically covers the crossing of borders by people seeking asylum.

‘Both resettled “quota refugees” and asylum seekers are Convention refugees. They are not “illegal migrants”, “people smugglers” or “queue jumpers”.’
Caritas has produced a downloadable leaflet, Refugee myths and realities, to address misunderstandings about refugee and asylum seekers.

Both the ACMRO and Caritas were expected to appear separately before the Select Committee.

Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand is a member of Caritas Internationalis, a confederation of 165 Catholic aid, development and social justice agencies active in over 200 countries and territories.

ACMRO Director Fr Maurizio Pettenà has worked extensively with migrants and refugees in a number of countries and in 2011 was appointed to the Pontifical Council for Migrants and Itinerant Peoples. His publications include works on Catholic pastoral responses to migration and Catholic Church teaching on migration.

Joe Moloney (BEcon (hons)/LLB), is the research and information officer at ACMRO, assisting the Australian Catholic Bishops on policy in relation to migrants and refugees.