Our concern about the welfare of the people sent to Nauru and Manus Island have led us to explore ways to support them while they are there.
Jesuit Refugee Service Australia (JRS) deplores the Australian government’s policy of dumping asylum seekers in impoverished countries such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea when they come to Australia by boat seeking protection. Cruel policies aimed at deterrence cannot be a substitute for a regional cooperation framework that would strengthen protection for asylum seekers, and create a robust and consistent process across the region for determining the status of irregular migrants. Where Australia should be pursuing a policy of sharing responsibility with host and transit countries, it seems instead only to be interested in shifting responsibility to countries much poorer than itself, and easing the way by using its cheque book.
JRS is concerned about the outcomes for asylum seekers in the offshore processing centres who are eventually found to be refugees, and given some form of stable residence in countries such as Nauru and Papua New Guinea. The social and economic conditions in these countries make the prospects for the refugees settled there very uncertain. There is a great deal of concern about the reception that these refugees will get in the community, given the lack of information and awareness in these countries about asylum issues; the economies of these countries also make employment or livelihood prospects rather bleak.
While JRS remains opposed to the offshore processing arrangements entered into by the Australian government, our concern about the welfare of the people sent to Nauru and Manus Island have led us to explore ways to support them while they are there.
In the case of Nauru, JRS has been putting together a proposal to support the refugees there by providing them with a community liaison worker who will work, in the first instance, with the Catholic Church, and other Christian churches and organisations, to find ways to integrate and support refugees when they are released from the Offshore Processing Centre and settled in the community. It is anticipated that the refugees will receive accommodation and financial support from the government, as well as work rights, though at this stage it is difficult to see what kind of work opportunities might exist for them on the island.
Sr Dorothy Bayliss RSC has taken on this new role for JRS, and she arrived on Nauru on 28 April. Sr Dorothy is a Sister of Charity who has been the JRS pastoral worker on Christmas Island for the major part of the last two years, and because of that role she is probably known to most, if not all, of the asylum seekers currently held on Nauru.
The Catholic Church on Nauru has agreed to support this project, and the Bishop of Tarawa, Paul Mea MSC, has given JRS his blessing and pledges of support. Sr Dorothy will live in a cottage that belongs to the parish. Both the Nauruan as well as the Australian governments are also supporting this initiative.
As we celebrate this blessed season of Easter, we find ourselves consoled and encouraged by this new ministry that we are commencing, responding to the needs of the most vulnerable refugees, and accompanying them, in an immediate, practical and constructive way.