The Australian Christian Lobby has welcomed Prime Minister Julia Gillard’s announcement this week that asylum seekers would be processed off shore as a disincentive to people smugglers, but notes there are many details still to be worked through.

While ACL had concerns with aspects of the former Howard Government’s policies towards asylum seekers, ACL did support off shore processing for the same reason it welcomes the Gillard Government’s announcement yesterday, ACL Chief of Staff Lyle Shelton said.

“ACL also welcomes the Opposition’s proposal to increase the opportunities for refugees applying for refugee status offshore,” Mr Shelton said.

“Genuine refugees languishing in refugee camps should not be disadvantaged because they cannot afford to pay a people smuggler.

“The nomination of refugees to Australia should not be by criminals in Indonesia and there should be no financial reward for these people.

“Too many people have died through this trade in lives on leaky boats,” Mr Shelton said.

Australia’s policy towards asylum seekers must strike a balance between compassion an orderly humanitarian program for refugees.

Any off shore processing of asylum seekers must be humane and expeditious so that genuine refugees are re-settled in to Australia quickly and that those who are not found to have a genuine claim are returned home quickly.

“We expect that those who are processed off shore to be processed as quickly as possible and that women and minors particularly be detained for as little a time as possible.” Mr Shelton said.

ACL also welcomed the Opposition’s proposal to enable church and other groups within Australia to directly sponsor refugees over and above the official program.

“Allowing church and community groups to extend generosity in this way will make a real difference to many lives,” Mr Shelton said.