Magazine article The Christian Century

Churches Challenge Policy on Asylum in Australia

Magazine article The Christian Century

Churches Challenge Policy on Asylum in Australia

Article excerpt

In a recent sermon, Mark Dunn asked his congregation to recall the prodigal son as they considered the plight of 267 asylum seekers facing deportation.

Australians, he said, should emulate the father in the parable and embrace the refugees, whom the government has vowed to return to two controversial offshore detention facilities after arriving in the country for medical care.

Dunn has offered to house the asylum seekers--who are originally from Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, Iran, and Bangladesh-should immigration authorities try to deport them. Such a move would risk jail time for harboring unlawful residents.

'"Do unto others as you would have them do unto you' includes asylum seekers," said Dunn, who presides over St. John's Uniting Church in Essendon, a Melbourne suburb.

St. John's is one of a dozen Anglican and Uniting churches in Australia to have publicly offered sanctuary, bolstering a nationwide campaign against the government's crackdown on asylum seekers.

Across the country, 115 churches have offered support for the asylum seekers and pushed the government to let them stay, according to the National Council of Churches in Australia, which represents 19 denominations. On Palm Sunday, some 50,000 protesters rallied in cities from Sydney to Perth to call for more compassionate treatment.

The debate over asylum seekers in Australia echoes the migrant crisis that has embroiled Europe for more than a year. It also reflects the plight of refugees across the globe.

The latest flashpoint in Australia's long-standing asylum debate comes after the High Court in February upheld the constitutionality of detaining and processing asylum seekers in foreign countries. The ruling has cleared the way for the return of the 267 asylum seekers to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea and Nauru, a small Pacific island nation.

The Australian government has outsourced the processing of asylum seekers who arrive illegally by boat or are intercepted at sea to the two islands. The potential returnees include 37 babies born in Australia after their mothers were transferred for the births because the detention centers lacked adequate medical facilities.

The Australian Human Rights Commission and international advocacy groups such as Amnesty International have blasted the government for its reliance on far-flung detention centers. …

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