SEVERAL Anglican cathedrals in Australia, including those in Brisbane, Perth, and Hobart, have offered sanctuary to 267 asylum-seekers who were under threat of return to offshore detention on Nauru. Anglican parish churches, as well as churches of other denominations, have made similar offers since the High Court ruled early this month that offshore detention was legal.
The asylum-seekers immediately affected by the court decision include 37 babies, some of whom were born in Australia, and some older children and their parents. They were brought to Australia for medical treatment. The expectation is that the Australian government will return them to Nauru within days.
The Dean of Brisbane, the Very Revd Dr Peter Catt, said that the churches were offering refuge “because there is irrefutable evidence from health and legal experts that the circumstances that asylum-seekers — especially children — would face if sent back to Nauru are tantamount to state-sanctioned abuse.
“This fundamentally goes against our faith; so our church community is compelled to act, despite the possibility of individual penalty against us.”
Australian legal experts have stated that sanctuary has no legal basis in Australia.
The Australian Primate, the Archbishop of Melbourne, Dr Philip Freier, while applauding the motives of those offering sanctuary, has warned that churches are not equipped to provide temporary accommodation. He has called on the Prime Minister to “exercise compassion and moral principle, and allow the asylum-seekers to remain in Australia”.