Refugees are among the most vulnerable people on the globe, and Australia will be judged as a world citizen by the way it treats them, said Australian Catholic Social Justice Council Chairman, Bishop Christopher Saunders.

Bishop Saunders called for a more compassionate response to asylum seekers.  ‘There is a desperate need for leadership from both sides of politics on this issue. If our attitude to refugees in recent months is any measure of our humanity, we will be found badly wanting’, Bishop Saunders said.

‘Australia sees only a tiny proportion of the world’s asylum seekers. The US, Canada, France and the UK see many times more than we do. Measured against 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including 16 million refugees and asylum seekers, Australia’s annual allocation of fewer than 14,000 places under the humanitarian program is small. The vast majority of displaced people are seeking shelter in developing countries, Bishop Saunders said.

‘Australia’s recent suspension of processing for Sri Lankan and Afghan asylum seekers is regrettable’, Bishop Saunders said. ‘Applications for asylum should be assessed on individual circumstances, not simply on nationality. When it abandoned the ‘Pacific solution’, the Rudd Government promised that asylum seekers would be detained for the shortest time possible. Australia must keep that promise.

‘The facilities at Curtin, such as they are, are extremely unwelcoming – nothing more than a primitive detention centre devoid of resources and set in the midst of an inhospitable environment. They are indicative of a national attitude lacking in compassion and care for those who have suffered so much already.

‘We can afford to be far more compassionate and humane in our response to people fleeing desperate situations and in dire need,’ Bishop Saunders said.