Uniting Churches throughout the country have joined with Anglican churches to offer sanctuary for asylum seekers at risk of being sent to offshore detention facilities on the island nation of Nauru.
Churches who have agreed to provide sanctuary include St John’s Uniting Church Essendon in Victoria; Manningham Uniting Church, St Andrew’s Uniting Church (Chelsea), Wesley Uniting Church Melbourne, Habitat Uniting Church, St Andrew’s Uniting Church (Fairfield), Pitt Street Uniting Church, Gosford Anglican Church and the Wayside Chapel in NSW; St George’s Anglican Cathedral, St Cuthbert’s Anglican Church and Wesley Uniting Church in Perth; Pilgrim Uniting Church in Adelaide; St David’s Anglican Cathedral in Hobart and Christchurch Anglican Cathedral in Darwin.
On Wednesday, the High Court of Australia ruled that 267 individuals seeking asylum currently living in mainland Australia can legally be deported back to Nauru. Of these, approximately 90 are children, some of whom were born in Australia while others currently attend local schools.
Earlier in the week, the United Nations high commissioner for refugees, Rupert Colville, warned that returning people seeking asylum to Nauru could be a breach of the international convention against torture. There have been more that 30 reported cases of sexual assault by guards against women and children on Nauru. As yet, no charges have been laid.
Speaking to The Australian on Thursday, the Anglican Dean of Brisbane, Peter Catt, said the community could no longer ignore the plight of traumatised people.
“This fundamentally goes against our faith, so our church community is compelled to act, despite the possibility of individual penalty against us,” Dr Catt said.
The church leader echoes the views of Uniting Church president Stuart McMillan, who yesterday asked the Prime Minister to intervene.
“Mr Turnbull, I appeal to your sense of compassion. Please step in and make the moral decision to protect these vulnerable people,” Mr McMillan said.
The concept of sanctuary dates back to the Old Testament. It was enacted in British law during the War of the Roses in the 1500s, when fleeing soldiers would hide in local churches. While ‘sanctuary’ is no longer enshrined in law, Dr Catts told ABC news that church leaders believe offering modern-day sanctuary to those fleeing danger represents a moral obligation.
“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,” Dr Catts said.
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