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Churches prepared to offer sanctuary as Government strips asylum seeker benefits

Refugee Taskforce calls Dutton's move "cruel and heartless"

By Chris Shearer

August 31 2017Over 100 churches have pledged to assist asylum seekers in Australia, with some prepared to offer sanctuary as a last resort, following the Federal Government’s move to strip them of financial assistance.

Anglican Dean of Brisbane and Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce (ACRT), the Very Revd Dr Peter Catt, said that the refugees targeted under the new crackdown were the same people who were offered sanctuary by a number of churches last year, and that the “offer is still on the table”.

“Our offer of sanctuary precipitated a huge outpouring of support as the community recognised that the government was preparing to send people, including children, to places of harm,” he said of last year’s offer.

“We were very encouraged by this, and call on the government to reverse its latest attempt to return these people, including children, to places of harm, such as Manus and Nauru, by starving them into it.”

A spokesperson for ACRT told TMA that 120 churches and one mosque have “expressed interest at various levels” on a three tier system.

Tier one would be prepared to offer Sanctuary in their church buildings as a last resort should asylum seekers lose their legal status in Australia, while tier two would offer basic welfare, and tier three commit to advocacy work.

The majority of Churches, representing seven denominations, fall into tiers two and three.

Dr Catt also called on Australians to support a network of agencies who could provide shelter and support to asylum seekers, including the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne and the Romero Centre in Brisbane.

“[On Monday], over forty men and women went into an appointment with immigration, emerging penniless, without housing and terrified of returning to harm on Manus and Nauru,” Dr Catt said.

“Among them were pregnant women and women that came to Australia for treatment after being sexually assaulted.

“We will not stand by and allow them to be made destitute and forced back to danger on Nauru. When this government is cruel, the community will be kind.”

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton announced on Monday that around 100 asylum seekers in Australia for medical treatment would no longer receive financial assistance from the Government nor be provided with housing support in an effort to force them back to Manus Island and Nauru.

They will have just three weeks to find housing and work or face deportation.

The Government says those affected have completed their medical treatment and are expected to return to Nauru and Manus Island. Around 370 asylum seekers originally held offshore are currently in Australia on medical or compassionate grounds.

A spokesperson for Mr Dutton told ABC: “They were brought here temporarily, but refuse to return and take out court injunctions to prevent their removal.”

“Those whose treatment has been completed will be told the Government, the taxpayer, will no longer provide financial assistance.”

Dr Freier criticised the move, telling TMA: “I am deeply concerned about Monday’s announcement by the Immigration Minister that welfare services will be cut to around 100 asylum seekers who were brought here for medical treatment, apparently in an effort to force them back into processing centres on Manus Island or Nauru.

“This is just the latest in a series of decisions to place vulnerable people in even more exposed conditions.

“Of course, it is the responsibility of governments to control national borders. But as Christians – or simply as people – our most urgent response must come from our common humanity and empathy.

“It is tragic for these vulnerable people that political parties have hardened refugee resettlement policy and tragic for these few people to be treated in this way.”

The former Bishop of Canberra and Goulburn, Dr George Browning, has written an opinion piece on the latest furore over asylum seeker policy, which you can read here.