ASYLUM SEEKERS: NOT ONLY A FINANCIAL MATTER!
By Fr. Giorgio Licini
Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea
The conflict over the Rudd-O’Neill deal on refugees escalated today as UPNG students burned copy of the agreement at the end of peaceful demonstration. The Prime Minister from Tabubil rebuked them for underestimating the financial benefits the arrangement brings to their own university.
It is probably time the government looks beyond the pure financial component of this issue. There are much more relevant implications: ethical, legal, cultural and religious. The government cannot just tell everybody to shut their mouth, get the money and help Australia after they have helped us so many times.
A possible violation of the national Constitution, as claimed by certain quarters, is an issue that cannot be swept under the carpet. We are obliged by national treaties to help refugees, but strictly speaking only when they come to our shores or walk through our borders. Those arriving at Christmas Island are Australia’s concern. They depart from Indonesia. Therefore, it is with the Indonesian government that Kevin Rudd needs to strike a deal. It’s their police that have to run after people smugglers.
Australia now gives the refugees non chance of settling in the country. The only hope will be PNG. It’s a bluff. Canberra just hopes that the boats will no longer come. In truth, in fact, the boats should not come. The UN has in place offices and procedures, though inferior to the needs, to process asylum seeker requests. The fact, however, is that people get at sea and gamble on their lives, especially from Indonesia to Australia and from North Africa to Southern Europe.
Large communities cannot be settled in PNG. The reasons are well known: non public land, no proper education and health facilities, no jobs. Asylum seekers have never been resettled in developing countries. Ours would be the first case. Australia and PNG governments know. But it’s part of the bluff.
It’s all bluff. Australia hopes to stop the boats. PNG wants a few billion kina to renovate a few university, hospitals and roads. Both are showing an appalling lack of respect for the most unfortunate on the world. They are not helping the boat people. They are helping each other.
True! The issue is huge, complex and difficult to address. Countries in the Pacific Region must help each other and nobody should be so selfish as to close eyes. But the two prime ministers are just asking to swallow the deal and refuse to discuss any detail with the parliament, the public opinion, the landowners, the NGOs and the churches. No wonder the students run out of patience!