Passionists ask bishops to intervene on Australia-PNG agreement on refugees
21 JUL 2013. The Provincial Superior of the Passionist Congregation for Australia and Papua New Guinea, Fr. Thomas McDonough CP, yesterday addressed a Letter to the Australian and PNG/SI Bishops’ Conferences on the recent agreement between the two countries to send all asylum seekers to the PNG island of Manus. He asked the bishops "to recall our Governments to a sense of the justice and the common law upon which the civil society of our countries are founded, and to the Christian principles upon which Papua New Guinea is explicitly founded."
Your Eminences, Your Graces, Bishops, Fathers
The recent agreement between the Governments of Australia and Papua New Guinea concerning the treatment and procedures for those arriving in boats and seeking asylum in Australia is a matter of enormous and grave concern. It is of concern firstly and primarily on humanitarian grounds – our concern for the appropriate and proper treatment of people seeking asylum, and especially a concern for the proper care for unaccompanied children. It is of grave concern in its apparent ignoring of both our countries’ moral obligations in the spirit of the United Nations Conventions we have agreed to. This is especially disturbing for a country who has placed Christian values in the very heart of their Constitution, as Papua New Guinea has.
The agreement between our countries is disturbing for the way in which it seemingly uses Papua New Guinea to solve our Australian problem – when Papua New Guinea already has such enormous social problems in almost every area, - environmental degradation, health, unemployment, lack of social services, corruption at so many levels, violence, the lack of any real rights or protection for women, and general crime. Papua New Guinea already receives enormous aid in so many sectors, aid which rarely seems to address or make practical inroads on these social problems.
It is also concerning whether the present arrangements in fact are unconstitutional. Highly respected lawyers advise that as long as the boat people are brought into Papua New Guinea and are kept under detention and conditions not humane and against their will, their rights under section 42 (liberty of the person) of the PNG Constitution is breached.
The recent amendments to the Constitution by the PNG Government, using its numerical strength in Parliament, in order to stay in power is cause for just as grave a concern.
The powerlessness of the people in PNG to even publically demonstrate their opinion without police or military approval means that any voices of opposition cannot be heard.
As the Provincial Superior also of the Passionist Missionaries of Papua New Guinea, and having ministered there these last 4 years, I wish to register my own grave concerns and ask you, as the voice of the Catholic Church in Papua New Guinea and Australia to recall our Governments to a sense of the justice and the common law upon which the civil society of our countries are founded, and to the Christian principles upon which Papua New Guinea is explicitly founded.
What is happening, particularly in the light of recent political events in Australia and the coming Federal elections, smacks of political expediency and cheque book diplomacy.
Urgent action is needed and the voices of Justice and the Church need to be heard.
On behalf of our Congregation present and working among the people of Papua New Guinea I hope we can make a powerful and whole Church response to these plans which compromise both our Governments, morally and otherwise.
Rev Thomas McDonough CP