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In Australia, Christian leaders support asylum seekers

August 17, 2011

MELBOURNE, Australia

Australia’s Christian leaders are praising a court injunction to prevent asylum seekers being deported as part of the federal government’s “Malaysian solution” to people trafficking. One Melbourne church has offered to care for 13 unaccompanied children.

The government wants to trade 800 asylum seekers who arrived by boat for 4,000 confirmed refugees in Malaysia. The first of the 4,000 refugees arrived in Australia on Aug. 12.

Already, 266 people have sought asylum in Australia in the past 10 days ― 50 of them unaccompanied minors. Melbourne’s Crossway Baptist Church has offered to care for 13 of them. Pastor Dale Stevenson considers children should not be treated the same as adults, and should be cared for and assessed in Australia.

“I am seeking to provide the government with an alternative. It’s more humane. If the government takes up our offer, we can action it ― we will foot the bill for this,” he told ENInews. “This is not about providing a solution to the asylum seeker problem. Our primary concern is for the children ― they’re more vulnerable.”

Stevenson says he has received overwhelming support from church and community groups, but no response from the government.

Fr. Jim Carty, Coordinator of the Marist Asylum Seeker and Refugee Services, believes the government is determined to operate without United Nations approval and with disregard to treaties it has signed to protect the human rights of refugees.

“When exile such as this is also associated with human cruelty, it raises urgent and troubling questions about Australia and what it means to be an Australian.”

On Aug. 8, the first 16 were to be deported to Kuala Lumpur, but human rights lawyer David Manne secured a temporary injunction from the Australian High Court against 42 deportations. This was then extended until Aug. 22, when the full court will decide whether the government’s proposal is lawful.

The court will also hear why Australia’s Immigration Minister Chris Bowen declared that Malaysia, which has no laws recognizing assessment of refugee claims, would meet human rights obligations that would apply if asylum seekers were processed in Australia. Under immigration laws, Bowen is the legal guardian of the unaccompanied minors.

Manne says many asylum seekers fear persecution for their religious beliefs in Malaysia. Some may be sent to Manus Island in Papua New Guinea after a review into Australia's immigration detention centers. Manus Island has no capacity to properly assess or protect refugees. Elenie Poulos, National Justice Director of the Uniting Church, described it as “another God-forsaken place we have access to for the dumping of vulnerable people whom we believe we bear no responsibility for.”

  1. Australia signed the UN Refugees Convention in 1954 and is legally bound to protect and process the claims of those who cross out borders and seek protection. What is so very hard about that? 15, 000 people in five years, with immigration running at 300 000 some years! All other civilised democratic countries do it, and we are the only one among 148 signatory countries whiche has mandatory INDEFINITE detention. After more than ten years battling the inhumanity of our mistreatment of asylum seekers who come by boat, advocates are burned out. Some of my friends are seriously retraumatised by the political competition to see which major party can be the harshest towards vulnerable men women and children. Please do all you can to stop this cruelty and breach of human rights.

    by Frederika Steen

    August 21, 2011

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