For release: Tuesday, 23rd July, 2013

The Australian Christian Lobby says the Papua New Guinea arrangement is an acceptable response to the tragedy of deaths at sea as long as humanitarian concerns are met and it allows Australia to expand its refugee intake to areas of greatest need.

ACL Managing Director Lyle Shelton said there were no easy or perfect solutions to stopping the deaths at sea generated by people smugglers exploiting asylum seekers.

“This new policy hinges on a lot of complex detail which is yet to be resolved, including providing humane living conditions for asylum seekers whose claims are being processed in PNG,” Mr Shelton said.

“However, if it is successful in stopping the deaths at sea and re-settling people humanely, Australians must not be lulled into thinking that our responsibility as a nation to asylum seekers is over.

“The impasse over people smuggling has diverted both public and parliamentary attention from areas of real and pressing need.

“We must prioritise our offer of refuge to those who are proven vulnerable minorities and Syria and Egypt should be our immediate focus,” Mr Shelton said.

“Then we must look to resettle those who as a result of previous conflicts are still languishing in refugee camps – some for as long as ten years.

“There are 45 million displaced people fleeing persecution and we have a responsibility as a nation to do our part and to work with the international community to help these people regardless of whether or not the boats are stopped.

“ACL welcomes the government’s plans to increase our humanitarian intake to 27,000 and urges bi-partisan support for this. There is capacity for us to be even more generous with our humanitarian program,” Mr Shelton said.

“If people smuggling ceases, Australia will be in a position to do more to help refugees languishing in camps who had no ability to pay smugglers and any so-called PNG solution is a sensible response to people smuggling, but must be the circuit breaker that allows us to prioritise our support to those in greatest need and danger.

“In this regard Government and Opposition calls to see the Refugee Convention reviewed are timely,” Mr Shelton said.

“Its post-World War II context takes no account of the fact that people can be in equal fear of their lives from famine or natural disaster and should also be treated as refugees.”