Australian Catholics ask Prime Minister to ensure nobody is left behind in COVID-19 pandemic

29 April 2020

Article first published on JRS Australia website 29 April 2020

On 7th April 2020, an historic group of Australian Catholics – including a number of Australian Catholic Bishops; Catholic Religious Australia (CRA), the peak body for more than 5,000 members of Religious Orders; and the CEOs of several major Catholic health and social services providers wrote to Prime Minister, Scott Morrison, applauding his government for showing leadership and agency in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the letter raised serious concerns for two groups of people that remain on the margins of our community and vulnerable to both the predations of the COVID 19 virus and the despair that comes with it.  All 44 signatories have decided that it is time for the letter to be made public, and for Catholics around the country to join in the movement to ensure nobody is left behind.

“Right now Australia is home to more than 1.5 million temporary visa holders,” said Fr Peter Smith, Promotor of Justice and Peace, Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney. “These women and men  are members of our communities and congregations: they pray in our pews, work in our restaurants, farms, factories, aged care homes, supermarkets, and NGOs, study in our schools and universities, and live in our neighbourhoods. And we have abandoned them to their fate.”

“We need to look to Singapore to see what can happen when a wealthy, sophisticated nation cares only for their own citizens and tries to ignore all those in their country,” continued Fr. Smith. “This virus doesn’t recognise passport status; it devastates everyone equally.”

Director of Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia, Carolina Gottardo, said, “Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia has delivered emergency food packages to more than 500 refugees, people seeking asylum and migrants in vulnerable situations who have lost jobs, have no safety net and cannot go home in the last two weeks alone. The demand for JRS’s services including emergency relief has also increased twofold. The situation is desperate”

“Many of the women, children, and men we support were already living in severely overcrowded dwellings. Now, as rental arrears build up and some landlords continue to threaten eviction, we are likely to see a surge of temporary visa holders in clusters of Western Sydney who are unable to self-isolate or practice social distancing,” Ms. Gottardo continued.

“Our Federal Government’s exclusion of temporary visa holders from a basic temporary net is creating a situation in which people cannot protect themselves or the wider community from COVID-19,” concluded Ms. Gottardo.

Bishop Vincent Long OFM Conv, Bishop of the Diocese of Parramatta and Chairperson of the Australian Catholic Bishops Conference (ACBC) Commission for Social Justice, Mission and Service pointed to an even more vulnerable group saying, “People who have been trafficked, victims of modern slavery, people seeking asylum, and women on temporary visas experiencing domestic violence are all excluded from support and access to Medicare and safe homes. This is not who we want to be as a nation.”

“We are really heartened to see the Tasmanian government give $3 million to support migrant workers in their state. This is not just welcome financial support it is an act of compassion and solidarity that recognises the vulnerability of these workers and the need to protect all people affected by COVID 19 for public health reasons,” Bishop Long said.

The letter also highlights imminent danger posed by the virus for the most distraught group of people – those who came seeking Australia’s protection and who are currently being held in hotels and detention centres across Australia.

Given the circumstances in which they live, this group cannot meet required physical distancing measures and are vulnerable to guards and service providers entering and leaving the facility at will., and potentially carrying COVID-19.

The signatories to the letter ask the Federal Government to remember its responsibility for ensuring safety and human rights of everyone residing within its jurisdiction, even temporarily.

Everyone in Australian community who is in hardship as a result of the COVID19 pandemic, including people seeking protection, must be given temporary access to a financial safety net, Medicare, and adequate shelter if they are homeless.

Nobody should be left behind in this time of extraordinary need.

For further information contact:

Justice & Peace Promoter – Fr Peter Smith 0408 613 709

Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) Australia Director – Carolina Gottardo 0414 880 625

For a copy of the public statement and a full list of signatories, please click on this link.