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The Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO) and the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) welcome the Flood Report and urge immediate action on its recommendations.

The Report should mark the beginning of substantial reform of Australia’s immigration detention regime.

“The ACMRO and ACSJC believe that once identity and intent have been established, asylum seekers should only be detained if it can be established that the individuals concerned pose a threat to national security or public order.  We support the release from detention of asylum seekers who do not pose a threat to the community, and call on the Government to implement the Immigration Detention Centre Guidelines produced by the Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission.  These Guidelines would ensure that Australia’s immigration detention practice conformed to international law protecting human rights and defining the status of refugees”, said Bishop Peter Stasiuk, Secretary of the Bishops’ Committee for Migrants and Refugees.

“The ACSJC and ACMRO have consistently held that asylum seekers should not be treated punitively in order to ‘send a message’ to ‘people smugglers’.  Human beings are an end in themselves.  Asylum seekers are human beings and their human rights should be respected at all stages of the processing of their claims to refugee status”, added Bishop William Brennan, Chairman of the ACSJC.

On 27 February 2001 the Report of Inquiry into Immigration Detention Procedures, or Flood Report, was tabled in Federal Parliament by the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs.  This inquiry was initiated by the Minister following expressions of concern by Church and community groups regarding conditions in immigration detention centers in late 2000.

The Flood Report identified a range of problems and made sixteen recommendations for action by the Federal Government.

The report's findings confirmed community fears for the safety and well being of the staff and refugees at the Woomera Detention Centre.  The findings include confirmation that important procedures were not followed, serious inadequacies in staff practices, the fact that protocols with state authorities are still lacking and that private contract performance issues can affect the reporting of serious incidents.  The report confirms that refugees including children have been treated as criminals in Woomera.

A more detailed statement on the Flood Report from the ACMRO and ACSJC is attached.

Further Information:
Fr John Murphy, Director, Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office    Tel: 02 6201 9848

Bishop Peter Stasiuk, Secretary, Bishops’ Committee for Migrants & Refugees    Tel: 03 9320 2560

Bishop William Brennan, Chairman, Australian Catholic Social Justice Council    Tel: 02 6921 5667

Ms Sandie Cornish, Chief Executive Officer, Australian Catholic Social Justice Council 

Background Documents:
Flood Report can be downloaded from www.immi.gov.au.
Immigration Detention Centre Guidleines can be downloaded from www.hreoc.gov.au.
ACMRO & ACSJC media statements and position papers can be downloaded from www.socialjustice.catholic.org.au.

AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC MIGRANT AND REFUGEE OFFICE
* BISHOPS’ COMMITTEE for MIGRANTS and REFUGEES *
2nd  Floor, Favier House, 1 Ballumbir St., Braddon, Act 2612

GPO Box 2720                             TEL:(02) 62019848
Canberra ACT 2601                     FAX:(02) 62477466

2 May 2001

STATEMENT FROM THE AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC MIGRANT AND REFUGEE OFFICE & THE AUSTRALIAN CATHOLIC SOCIAL JUSTICE COUNCIL ON IMMIGRATION DETENTION

On February 27th 2001, the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs released in Federal Parliament a report "Inquiry into Immigration Detention Procedures" prepared by Mr Philip Flood AO. The report was commissioned last year by the Minister following allegations of unsatisfactory treatment, including child abuse claims, especially at the Woomera Detention Centre.

The report, with its limited terms of reference, condemns aspects of the Immigration Detention system and supports concerns of non-Governmental agencies like the Australian Catholic Migrant and Refugee Office (ACMRO) and the Australian Catholic Social Justice Council (ACSJC) who advocate for asylum seekers in detention.  Many commentators are now saying that a full judicial inquiry is required in order to examine fully deficiencies in the Detention regime. Such an Inquiry would have wider terms of reference than those of the Flood Inquiry and would give guaranteed protection to those witnesses who were not prepared to appear before the Flood Inquiry.

ACMRO & the ACSJC support and congratulate the Minister for Immigration and Multicultural Affairs, the Honourable Philip Ruddock, for acting on the recommendation of Mr Flood to allow women and children to live outside detention centres.  The initiative will allow women and children to be released from detention in Woomera under a trial period after consultation with the Woomera township and after amendments to the Migration and Sex Discrimination Acts. Husbands and fathers will remain in detention while their cases are decided, but they will be allowed visits from their spouses and children.  Church and Community groups, including ACMRO, proposed this idea to the Minister last year in a combined open letter.

In releasing the Flood Report, the Minister also announced an initiative to establish an Immigration Detention Advisory Group to advice the Minister on the appropriateness and adequacy of services and facilities at immigration detention centres.  ACMRO was among those who proposed such a group. Non-Governmental organizations are represented on this Advisory Group, but there are no Church representatives.

ACMRO and the ACSJC have frequently lobbied for faster processing of applications for refugee status by detainees and for greater transparency in advising detainees of the progress and status of their cases. Therefore we hope that the Flood Report recommendation to reduce the average processing times will be implemented as a priority.  We believe that this approach will help alleviate some of the frustration which is suffered by many detainees.

We also welcome the Flood Report's recommendations to improve the physical environment in Detention centres, and to give Australasian Correctional Management staff appropriate training in cultural awareness and guidance to deal with issues of racism, sexism and religious intolerance.

Overall, ACMRO and the ACSJC embrace the Report's acknowledgement of problems with conditions in the detention regime. Importantly, we join with other non-Governmental Organizations to suggest that Mr Philip Flood's Report act as a spring-board for further enquiry with the aim of improving conditions and treatment for detainees and to ensure that they are treated with the love, respect and dignity which is demanded by Jesus Christ.

Additional information on migration and refugee issues is available at the ACMRO home page at www.acmro.catholic.org.au.

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