PERTH, Australia -- Australia's Catholic bishops praised the Australian and Afghanistan governments for signing a deal they hope will be "a shift away from ineffective and cruel policies of deterrence to control forced migration."
The two governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding Jan. 17 with the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees.
In a Feb. 4 statement, the Australian bishops' Migrant and Refugee Office expressed the hope that the agreement represents "a more proactive approach which addresses the underlying issue of war and instability in Afghanistan."
The bishops said that people smuggling activities cannot be controlled by returning unsuccessful asylum seekers to Afghanistan.
"The message is lost on people who are desperate and have no other choice," the statement said, and urged the Minister for Immigration and Citizenship Chris Bowen to guarantee "beyond doubt" that those who are returned to Afghanistan will be protected from violence and persecution.
"Australia is paving the way for the rest of the international community to start sending refugees back to Afghanistan. To do so would likely escalate the situation," the statement said.