“Remember the children in detention,” says the Aussie Churches Refugee Taskforce.
While the eyes of the nation have been fixed on the accusations flying left and right in Parliament, Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce (ACRT) Director Dr Peter Catt reminds us that “Christians always support the underdog and the marginalised, and in this case the marginalised are the children who are being abused and their families and other asylum seekers who are on the verge of taking their own lives.”
As the UNHCR handed down their report The Forgotten Children this week, the report itself has been obscured by the accusations being levelled at the Human Rights Commissioner Gillian Triggs.
Dr Catt says, “The report actually criticises both the current government and the previous government so it isn’t a political stitch-up and it isn’t partisan.
“The report is showing that we’ve got a problem and it would be much better if we dealt with the problem rather than trying to deflect from the very serious findings of the report by introducing those levels of intrigue.
“The report should be taken very seriously.
Politicians should stop politicking about the messenger and get on to heeding the very serious findings of the report. There are a number of cases of sexual assault, some of them are against children. Let’s focus on the children.”
The report itself recommends a Royal Commission into the treatment of children in detention. Dr Catt says that the ACRT “absolutely supports” a Royal Commission. “There needs to be that level of investigation so it can be beyond all the political posturing and we can get down to making sure that human misery stops and is not repeated.”
The ACRT is a regular presence in Canberra, meeting with representatives of the Department of Immigration and the United Nations Human Rights Committee (UNHCR) to try and make life better for refugees, particularly for kids in detention.
Dr Peter Catt, director of the Taskforce, says that “they receive us well and take seriously what we say”.
But the work of the Taskforce is hindered because the UNHCR and Department of Immigration report that there’s no appetite in the government to change.
“There are other ways for us to engage with the asylum seeker issue rather than this Machiavellian approach which is to justify harsh treatment as a means for what we call ‘stopping the boats’.
“We’re saying that the ends justifies the means which is always a risky place to find yourself.
Dr Catt is firmly against offshore processing, saying that, “Using it as a mechanism to stop people from drowning [at sea] doesn’t make much sense to me. You just replace one form of persecution and death with another one.”
When asked about how any of this is going to change, he says, “The change is not going to be led by our political leaders. The change will be led by good people in Australia asking for the policy to change. The power is very much in our hands and we need to engage and call for the change.”