Churches offer sanctuary

By Catherine Hoffman
New Times Editor & Communications Officer

Posted in News

Update 10/02/16: Since publishing this article on Friday 5 February, several Australian premiers have called on the federal government to allow the 267 asylum seekers to stay. Read more here.

Uniting Church leaders are offering sanctuary and support to more than 250 asylum seekers facing deportation to offshore detention.

On Wednesday 3 February, the High Court affirmed offshore processing based on legislation passed by parliament in June 2015. This decision has serious implications for 267 asylum seekers, including 37 babies and 54 children, who were brought to Australia for medical treatment and now face being sent to offshore detention.

Stuart McMillan, the President of the Uniting Church in Australia, has asked Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull to intervene directly to protect these asylum seekers.

“Returning families and babies to Nauru and Manus may be legal, but it is not humane. To send people, especially children and Australian-born babies, back to the place that has caused them such harm would be an outrage against human dignity,” says Stuart.

“Mr Turnbull, I appeal to your sense of compassion. Please step in and make the moral decision to protect these vulnerable people.”

The Australian Church Refugee Taskforce asked its members, including the Uniting Church, to take symbolic action by offering asylum seeker families sanctuary within churches.

On Thursday 5 February, Pilgrim Uniting Church was nominated as able to offer sanctuary to those affected by the High Court’s decision.

The Pilgrim congregation has a long history of support and advocacy for asylum seekers and refugees. The Uniting Church SA Synod is working closely with Pilgrim as they determine ways forward.

Other Uniting Church congregations offering sanctuary include St John’s Uniting Church (Essendon), Pitt Street Uniting Church (Sydney), Wesley Uniting Church (Perth) and Wayside Chapel (Sydney). They are among more than 10 churches of various denominations across Australia who have opened their doors to these asylum seeker families. A number of other Uniting Church congregations are also considering the possibility of offering sanctuary.

Immigration Minister Peter Dutton has warned churches that the government expects them to obey the law – “no matter who you are.”

Although there may be serious consequences of offering sanctuary, Pilgrim Uniting Church’s leaders, Deacon Rev Sandy Boyce and Minister Rev Jana Norman, are determined to stand firm.

Together with President Stuart McMillan and Uniting Church SA Moderator Dr Deidre Palmer, Sandy and Jana joined over 1,000 protesters at the #LetThemStay snap rally on the Parliament House steps in Adelaide on the afternoon of Thursday 5 February.

Stuart addressed the gathering, commending Pilgrim on its offer of sanctuary and repeating his call on Malcolm Turnbull to make a compassionate decision regarding those families facing deportation.

This call to compassion is one that Deidre echoed in statement released earlier the same day.

“As a church, we are engaged in this advocacy, because we follow in the way of Jesus,” Deidre wrote. “Jesus’ life and ministry witness to a God who calls us to embody God’s compassion, justice and love for all people, and in particular, those who are oppressed and vulnerable. As we enter into the period of Lent, we are reminded of our God who understands our suffering and invites us to be present with all those who suffer injustice.

“I invite you all to assist wherever you can and I pray for courage and persistence for all of us, as we seek to faithfully discern and respond to God’s call to ‘do justice, love kindness and walk humbly with God.’ (Micah 6:8)”

More protest events will be held in the coming week, providing plenty of opportunities for members of the Uniting Church to engage.

Another #LetThemStay snap rally will be held at 4pm on Friday 5 February, taking place at the corner of King William Street and Rundle Mall. More information is available here.

Pilgrim Uniting Church (12 Flinders Street, Adelaide) will host an event titled “Stand for Sanctuary – Adelaide” on Monday 8 February at 6pm. More information is available here.

A Palm Sunday rally welcoming refugees will be held on Sunday 20 March, 2pm, on the Parliament House steps in Adelaide. More information is available here.


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