'Behavioural protocols' for asylum seekers "fear-mongering"

A SENIOR Anglican figure has accused Australian politicians of wielding words like "weapons" in the asylum-seeker debate.

The Very Revered Dr Peter Catt, a member of the recently-formed National Council of Churches of Australia asylum-seeker taskforce, accused opposition immigration spokesman Scott Morrison of "pure fear-mongering" after he demanded a range of "behavioural protocols" for asylum seekers.

Mr Morrison caused a furore earlier in the week when, among a raft of measures, he called for residents to be notified when an asylum-seeker on a bridging visa moved into the neighbourhood.

On Friday Fairfax revealed people on bridging visas were 45 times less likely to be charged with a crime than members of the general public.

But Opposition Leader Tony Abbott defended Mr Morrison, saying asylum seekers who tried to get here by boat did so "illegally".

Dr Catt said words like "illegal" and queue jumper" to describe asylum-seekers had a dehumanising effect.

"Asylum seekers are people seeking refuge, not criminals in hiding," Dr Catt said in his capacity as chair of the Brisbane Anglican Diocesan Social Responsibilities Committee.

"Language is a very powerful tool and can become a very powerful weapon and for a long time we've been concerned with some of the language that's used in the asylum seeker debate."

Dr Catt revealed the NCCA taskforce would be lobbying politicians up until the election on this issue of language.

He said improving community and public discourse on the issue would be the taskforce's main focus.

"There are many issues that trouble us - children in custody, the time people spend in detention - but at the bottom line that we see if the problem of language," he said.

"If the language issue isn't addressed, if people don't start rehumanising the refugees and asylum seekers then the other issues will never get addressed."

Dr Catt said he was not advocating for an open-door refugee policy, acknowledging the "huge" number of people seeking asylum globally.

But he urged Australian politicians to adopt a more "compassionate and nuanced" response to the issue.

The parliamentary debate in June last year after at least 100 asylum seekers died at sea should be the standard, he said.

"That tragedy really touched on hearts and I think what happens when some of the other language starts getting used our hearts start to get disengaged," he said.

"And in the end if we start dehumanising any group of people we will start dehumanising other groups of people and eventually ourselves.

"That's my deepest concern - what are we going to do to ourselves if we keep using this language."

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