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As the global community prepares to celebrate World Refugee Day on Wednesday 20 June, the New Zealand government is attracting international attention with its refugee policies – for the wrong reasons.
Plans to lock-up refugees arriving in groups to New Zealand have drawn concern from across the Tasman. The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO) has opposed the mandatory detention provisions in the 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 – will cross the Tasman next week to share the reality of mandatory detention of refugees. On Thursday 28 June, they will appear before the Transport and Industrial Relations Select Committee considering the Bill. They are calling on New Zealand to respond with compassion to asylum seekers escaping violence, war or violence in their homelands.
Caritas Aotearoa New Zealand – the social justice agency of New Zealand’s Catholic Bishops – is also concerned about the mass detention provisions in the Bill. But it adds that 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 being a world leader in the resettlement of refugees. Many members of society are from refugee and migrant backgrounds, and 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 a leaflet Refugee myths and realities to address misunderstandings about refugee and asylum seekers, available through our website at http://www.caritas.org.nz/resources/publications/refugee-myths-and-reali...
Both the ACMRO and Caritas will appear separately before the Select Committee on Thursday 28 June.
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.
Fr Maurizio Pettenà and Joe Maloney are available for media interviews 28-29 June.
For interviews or more information, contact Martin de Jong +64-4-496 1782 or +64-21-909 688.
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 (a Vatican body). 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 Conference on policy in relation to migrants and refugees. He is also consultant to the Global Ecumenical Network on Migration and to the Australian Seasonal Worker Program.