Pastors Risk Arrest By Offering Sanctuary To Asylum Seekers - Hope 103.2

Pastors Risk Arrest By Offering Sanctuary To Asylum Seekers

At least 10 churches across Australia are reviving the tradition of sanctuary—by offering refuge to asylum seekers who fear returning to Nauru.

By Clare BruceThursday 4 Feb 2016Hope MorningsNewsReading Time: 4 minutes

Listen: Emma Mullings talks to Reverend Geoff Broughton of St Georges Anglican at Paddington about his agreement to offer sanctuary to asylum seekers.

At least 10 churches across Australia are reviving the ancient tradition of sanctuary—by offering refuge to asylum seekers who fear returning to the island nation of Nauru.

The movement has been birthed by Brisbane’s Anglican Dean Dr Peter Catt, in a partly symbolic yet sincere bid to help protect 267 asylum seekers who face being sent back to Nauru Detention Centre.

The asylum seekers include 37 babies and over 50 other children, and they are in mainland Australia for a range of medical and mental health issues.

Among them are at least women and children who are said to have been harassed or assaulted – according to reports by the ABC and Fairfax.

Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull is under pressure to let the families to stay in Australia.

Church Following Its Call To Grace And Mercy

The Sydney Morning Herald reports that churches involved in the sanctuary movement include Pitt Street Uniting Church, the Wayside Chapel in Kings Cross, and St Georges Anglican Church in Paddington, as well as Gosford Anglican Church on the Central Coast.

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The ministers say they are acting in accordance with the Christian call to mercy and compassion. They are risking arrest if they are found to be violating the law.

Reverend Geoff Broughton, the Rector at St Georges Anglican Church in Paddington, told Hope 103.2 that Christianity had a long tradition of teaching that “grace and mercy trump law”, and that the issue of asylum seekers was close to his heart.

He’s been supporting asylum seekers for years, starting with the Tampa case in 2001.

“This is one of those difficult issues I’ve had to wrestle with along with my congregation, about our response to the decision yesterday by the courts, that we think is not appropriate,” he said. “We’re talking about children, some of them babies.”

He said his church is, on a practical level, a good site for sanctuary because the church building, hall and rectory (minister’s house) were all on the one property.

“If asylum seekers do arrive here, we are certainly well located to be able to provide them with a safe place while I guess there will be other legal challenges taking place.

When asked how long sanctuary might be provided, he said “no-one has a roadmap for this”.

Church Actions Backed Up By United Nations Report

The support of the churches today is in response to yesterday’s High Court ruling, saying that the Federal Government’s processing of asylum seekers offshore is within the law.

The sanctuary movement is in step with the views of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, who has in the past two years accused Australia of committing “a chain of human rights violations” according to the SMH.

In 2015, Amnesty International released a report saying Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers was a “conspiracy of neglect”, describing our offshore processing system as “deliberately harsh” and “humiliating”, “designed to pressure asylum seekers to return to their country of origin, regardless of whether or not they were refugees”.

Iranian Christian Says Nauru Is “Like Hell”, “The End Of The World”

Those supporting the deportation of the 267 argue that conditions on Nauru have improved.

But the refugees, many having settled into relatively peaceful lives here with their children attending schools, are afraid of returning to the small island nation.

One Iranian Christian family that spoke to the spoke to Fairfax from Wickham Point Detention Centre in Darwin, described not just the detention centre but the island itself as a “jail”.

The father fears for his baby’s health and his wife’s safety, saying “women can get raped” on Nauru. His wife described the island “the end of the world”, “like hell”.

Children Traumatised By Threat Of Returning To Nauru

Doctors who have visited Nauru are urging the government to let the families stay too, according to SBS and the ABC.

Dr Elizabeth Elliott who spent time on Christmas Island to interview around 200 asylum seekers on 2014, told SBS that she met children who were withdrawn, with behavioural problems, sleeping difficulties, even mutism and suicidal thinking.

She said the conditions on Nauru – including tents and extreme heat – are “totally inappropriate for children, particularly young babies who are prone to infection.”

A team from the Australian Human Rights Commission has visited the Wickham Point detention centre and met many of the group of 267 who face deportation, according to the Herald.

A medical team reported that the children were the most traumatised they’d ever met, and the commission’s president Professor Gillian Triggs said part of the reason for their trauma was “the constant threat that they’ll be going back to Nauru”.

Greens immigration spokesperson Senator Sarah Hanson-Young has told Fairfax that she believes sending children back to Nauru would be “child abuse”.

“Pray For These Children”: Rev Broughton

Listen: Reverend Broughton calls on Australians to pray.

While the asylum seekers await the government’s decision, Reverend Broughton is calling on Australians to at least think of them in prayer.

“I have two children, both now teenagers,” he said. “My focus has always been on the children in detention. I think of my own children and I’d say to people, whatever you think of the politics involved, just think about them as we think about a legal decision that they can be forcibly removed to a place like Nauru.

“I’d just ask people to at least pray about those children and for God’s safe-keeping for them.”