Charities Open Arms to Asylum Seekers
4 February 2016 at 3:53 pm
Australian international aid and community sector organisations have united behind churches across Australia that have offered to open their doors to asylum seekers that may be sent back to offshore detention centres.
The groups, including the Australian Council of Social Service (ACOSS), the Australian Council for International Development (ACFID), Anglicare Australia, Catholic Social Services, Mission Australia, Oxfam Australia, St Vincent de Paul Society, Save the Children and World Vision Australia urged Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to allow the families and their children to stay in Australia.
ACFID CEO Marc Purcell said the government should reject a recent High Court ruling that found it was legal for it to return up to 267 asylum seekers currently living in Australia back to Nauru.
More than 90 of the asylum seekers are children, including 37 babies born in Australia.
“The High Court of Australia may have ruled against the challenge to the legality of our offshore detention centres, but what’s at stake here is the safety and wellbeing of traumatised and vulnerable people, including 37 babies and 54 children,” Purcell said.
“This goes beyond technical legalities, it’s about our humanity, our morals and values, our human rights obligations and what’s the right humanitarian thing to do.
“Aid agencies have staff who are highly experienced in working with refugees in places like Afghanistan and with the Syrians displaced by war. They also have staff that specialise in working with families and children suffering from trauma. Many of our member agencies can support the churches offering sanctuary with this range of expertise.”
ACOSS CEO Dr Cassandra Goldie said Australia was a wealthy nation made up of people who had been welcomed from all around the world and it was within the nation’s capacity and its moral duty to provide these people sanctuary.
“We remain opposed to offshore processing, and urge the Federal Government to immediately move to process the outstanding applications of asylum seekers and provide safe haven here in Australia. Our services are offered to provide assistance to the families and their children to enable them stay in Australia, out of harm’s way,” Dr Goldie said.
“Australia’s churches, community sector and broader civil society are ready and able to welcome and ensure the proper care and protection of this small group of people and children.
“We have housing, community, employment and faith networks that will ensure people seeking asylum in Australia are safe and integrate successfully into the Australian community. We call on the Government to work with us to ensure Australia fulfils its humanitarian obligations.”
Anglican Dean of Brisbane, the Reverend Dr Peter Catt, told the ABC he was opening up St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane to the asylum seekers.
“Many of us are at the end of our tether as a result of what seems like the government’s intention to send children to Nauru,” Dr Catt said.
“So we’re reinventing, or rediscovering, or reintroducing, the ancient concept of sanctuary as a last-ditch effort to offer some sense of hope to those who must be feeling incredibly hopeless.”
Dr Catt said he was offering sanctuary, a historical concept untested by Australian law, to the asylum seekers and he would happily risk being prosecuted for offering it.
“Sanctuary was a concept that was certainly alive in the Middle Ages when people could go to a church, and particularly to a cathedral, and claim sanctuary and the church authorities could really grant them safety against the civic authorities,” he said.
“[My] hunch is that if the authorities chose to enter the church and take people away, it would probably be a legal action.
“So this is really a moral stand and it wouldn’t be a good look, I don’t think, for someone to enter a church and to drag people away.”
Immigration Minister Peter Dutton told 2GB Radio that sanctuary was unlikely to stop the government from sending the asylum seekers back to Nauru because “in the end, people have to abide by Australian law, regardless of who they are”.
Protests calling on the government to allow the asylum seekers to stay in Australia have been organised for most Australian capital cities.