The Dire Situation in Port Moresby, What We Can Do Together.

Dear Friends,

My name is Carolina Gottardo and I am the Co-Convenor for the Catholic Alliance for People Seeking Asylum (CAPSA) and the Director of JRS Australia.

Last week, I was part of a Catholic delegation of Catholic leaders that flew to Port Moresby to meet with the refugees and migrants still languishing there seven years after Australia transferred them there.

The delegation included the Most Reverend Bishop Vincent Long Van Nguyen (Order of Friars Minor Conventual), Fr Peter Smith (Justice and Peace Promoter for The Justice and Peace Office, Catholic Archdiocese of Sydney), Fr Gerry Heffernan (Parish Priest of St Joseph and St Anthony Parish), Fr Tom McDonough CP (Executive Member of Catholic Religious Australia), Sr Mary-Clare Holland OP (Dominican Sisters of Eastern Australia and the Solomon Islands) and Joshua Lourensz (CAPSA Coordinator).

The healthcare picture that emerged was DIRE.

We visited people in the community, in the hospital, and who had been inside prisons or detention centres. We met men who suffer from chronic kidney issues, unexplained pain, tuberculosis, complex PTSD and the like.

Many of these ailments could not be treated in PNG.

After six or seven years of such prescriptions, many said they no longer felt the effects of the inadequate painkillers and sleeping medication they were doped up with.

The spectre of death is never far away. One member of the delegation said that she had worked in palliative care for years, and could feel death around the men in hospital.

The memory of Dr. Rohani, who died in Brisbane a whole two years after being medically evacuated, was also fresh in the minds of many in Port Moresby. Like Reza Barati and many others, Dr Rohani is remembered as a friend and brother.

I felt profound pain hearing so many of the men talk about their families, and also a deep desire to do something. One man I spoke to had not seen his children for seven years.

Others have simply had to stop calling their families. Their parents, spouses, and children do not believe them any more. “Why would they lock you up? Have you done something wrong?” they ask.

“How can we explain to our family members that the system is broken, that we are being tortured like animals for no reason? Who will believe us?”

This is the absurdity of what Australia is doing. It is unbelievable to those who do not witness it, to those who are not surrounded by it.

Ultimately, I come back to what Fr. Giorgio Licini— who is the general secretary of the Catholic Bishops Conference of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands — said in The Saturday Paper today about the situation we saw in Port Moresby. He said that if nothing is done, then the men left behind “will die in a short span of time”.

“You will kill them.”

“If Australia intends to kill that way 200 people, well, you will take an historic responsibility,” said Licini.

Below I would like to share a short video of my reflections on what was most challenging and most uplifting about what we witnessed during our time in PNG. WATCH THE VIDEO HERE.

What JRS Australia and CAPSA are doing. On Saturday, I joined George Newhouse from the National Justice Project, Dr. Kerryn Phelps, the architect of the Medevac Bill, Shamindan Kanapathi, and others at the Save Medevac Rally in Sydney.

Last night, Bishop Long and others are in Canberra at an all-night vigil on the lawns of Parliament to pray for and show solidarity with the people in PNG and on Nauru.

Bishop Long has also called on the refugees and people seeking asylum in PNG to have safe and secure pathways to safety and a chance to rebuild their lives in Catholic Outlook.

In The Saturday Paper, I spoke about the situation on the ground and the unbearable suffering that I witnessed and heard about.  In two weeks, members of the delegation will be going to Canberra to make sure all of our representatives across the spectrum in Parliament know what we witnessed in Port Moresby and can do.

The importance of Medevac is central in mind as we come closer towards the vote in the Senate. Our JRS Australia team will advocate for Medevac by telling the politicians directly why this bill CANNOT be revoked. And with your support, this message will only be stronger.

Together, we can advocate for Medevac. Please sign this petition here. You can also write to Senator Jacqui Lambie, who holds the deciding vote on whether Medevac will stay in place. The quick and easy proforma letter can be accessed here.

Support JRS to advocate for change. In order to continue our fearless, independent advocacy, JRS Australia needs your help. Australia needs policies of welcome, not cruelty. Support our advocacy work here.

Reflecting on 2019. As you know, ‘it is beginning to look a lot like Christmas’. Throughout 2019, JRS Australia has proudly been a core agency for promoting the dignified living of people seeking asylum in Australia and supporting these people and families in our community spaces of welcome in Westmead and Parramatta. Once again, I thank you for walking with us throughout another challenging year. Together, and in our faith, we can — and have — made a difference to the lives of the many refugees, people seeking asylum, and other forcibly displaced people that we are so honoured to serve.

In Peace,


CAPSA Co-Convenor and JRS Australia Director
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