Sister Anne Derwin RSJ, President of CRA and the Congregational Leader of the Sisters of St Joseph of the Sacred Heart, said there was a desperate need for leadership from all sides of politics on this issue.
She said the membership of CRA, which comprises priests, nuns and brothers, were concerned that the scaremongering and tough rhetoric played on the fears of some in the Australian community and created false assumptions.
“We would hope that the leaders of our country would instead lead the country to a stance of compassion for those genuinely in need. We believe that the best side of Australia is not showing through in the current debate.”
Sister Anne said Religious women and men in Australia have worked for many years with asylum seekers and refugees and know that the people they work with are not criminals.
“They are people fleeing treatment and conditions unimaginable to most Australians. They do not deserve to be punished in the ways that both major parties are proposing.”
She said Religious leaders ask that the real facts regarding asylum seekers be stated clearly by the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition.
“These facts are irrefutable. We know that 90 per cent of boat people are found to be genuine refugees – people in real fear for their lives, people who have no other way of escaping their countries (because there is no queue there, and their only option is torture and death).
“We also know that measured against 42 million forcibly displaced people worldwide, including 16 million refugees and asylum seekers, Australia's annual allocation of fewer than 14,000 places under the humanitarian program is small. The number of boat people is only a tiny fraction of this number.
Sister Anne concluded: “We urge leaders not to use asylum seekers as political footballs in the lead-up to the coming election, but to help relieve ill-founded anxieties, and demonstrate that we as a nation are really decent, compassionate and just.”