Stand for Sanctuary

Rev Alex Sangster outside St Andrew's Uniting Church, Fairfield.

Rev Alex Sangster outside St Andrew’s Uniting Church, Fairfield.

More Uniting Churches in Victoria have declared that they will offer sanctuary to asylum seekers facing deportation to Nauru.

St John’s Uniting Church in Essendon was the first church in Victoria to publicly state its intention to invoke the ancient Christian tradition. This was followed by Manningham Uniting Church, Wesley Uniting Church (Melbourne), St Andrew’s Uniting Church (Chelsea), Habitat Uniting Church, Croydon North Uniting Church, Brunswick Uniting Church and St Andrew’s Uniting Church (Fairfield).

UnitingJustice Australia national director Rev Elenie Poulos appeared on 2GB on Sunday to speak about the church’s offer of sanctuary.

“We’re really excited and overwhelmed by the amazing response of churches around the country that are willing to say ‘enough is enough’,” she said.

“We are prepared to engage in acts of civil disobedience and offer them sanctuary because we believe we should let them stay.

“It’s just ludicrous to think that sending babies to Nauru can ‘stop the boats’.”

The church’s stance has won the support of Australia’s international aid sector, community service agencies, unions and other faith communities.

Ali Kadri, spokesman for the Islamic Council of Queensland, expressed the Islamic communities’ support for the sanctuary movement.

“We commend the leadership shown by the leaders of the Christian community and as people of faith, we stand with them,” Mr Kadri told the Brisbane Times.

“We will offer the same thing in two of mosques and, if asylum seekers enter Dr Peter Catt’s church, I will go and stand in solidarity with our Christian brothers and sisters. I will stand right next to Dr Catt, shoulder to shoulder and if I am arrested, so be it.”

Premiers from all six states and the ACT chief minister have pledged to take in the 267 asylum seekers. This unprecedented wave of support began on Saturday when Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews wrote a letter to Malcolm Turnbull, urging him to let the asylum seekers stay in Australia.

“A sense of compassion is not only in the best interests of these children and their families. It is also in the best interests of our status and a fair and decent nation,” Mr Andrews wrote.

“There are infants among this group who were born in this country. Sending them to Nauru will needlessly expose them to a life of physical and emotional trauma.”

Ms Poulos said she was heartened by the response of the premiers.

“It goes to show you what can happen when people start stepping out into the public space and offering moral leadership,” Ms Poulos said.

“We’re now seeing political leaders around the country coming on board and saying that it’s not good enough, that Australia needs to do better.

“The world is now watching us; there’s been enormous international interest in what’s happening here.”

On Monday, public demonstrations took place in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide, Perth, Darwin, Hobart, Canberra and regional centres throughout the country.  An estimated 6,000 people attended the Melbourne rally outside the State Library of Victoria.

Hundreds of Australian schoolteachers will protest against the deportation of asylum seekers to Nauru on Wednesday and Thursday. They will hold signs saying “Let them stay – education not detention” and share their photos on social media.

Glenroy College principal Paul Dingle said he was prepared to risk jail by speaking out about the plight of three students at his school, who are waiting to be flown back to Nauru.

“We want all young people to learn and be better citizens,” Mr Dingle told The Age.

“These students have expressed their joy at being at school, being able to interact with peers in a relatively free environment and to be learning. It would a traumatic experience to have that cut off and for them to have to go back to place like Nauru.”

If your church is interested in offering sanctuary to people seeking asylum, you can register with the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce here.

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