As up to 267 asylum seekers face being sent from Australia to Nauru within days, if not hours, churches and cathedrals in Australia are stepping up to where our government isn’t and offering them the medieval protection of ‘sanctuary’.
“We offer this refuge because there is irrefutable evidence from health and legal experts that the circumstances asylum seekers, especially children, would face if sent back to Nauru are tantamount to state-sanctioned abuse,” the Anglican Dean of Brisbane, the Very Reverend Dr Peter Catt, told ABC Radio.
“We are doing what the government should be doing.”
More than that, he’s prepared to face their wrath, telling ABC Radio this morning that he is prepared to face charges for obstruction over preventing authorities from entering St John’s Anglican Cathedral grounds.
The concept of sanctuary is from the Old Testament, and was protected by English law until the 1500s. However, The Guardian reports that the charge of “concealing and harbouring non-citizens” could potentially be used against him and other heads of churches. It’s understood that the Anglican Church is currently seeking legal advice.
Catt told The Australian that sending these people back to Nauru, and thereby inflicting further trauma on them, “fundamentally goes against our faith, so our church community is compelled to act, despite the possibility of individual penalty against us.”
“It is an extraordinary step, [one] that will attract the attention of church communities around the world.”
A total of 10 Anglican and Uniting churches ’round the country have offered sanctuary so far.
In the wake of yesterday’s High Court ruling, Immigration Minister Peter Dutton said that his department is “not going to put children into harm’s way”, but it’s become abundantly clear that Dutton’s definition of “harm’s way” is at odds with pretty much everybody else’s, including the United Nations.
He’s now coming under enormous pressure to #LetThemStay. Good.
The full list of Anglican churches and affiliated chapels offering sanctuary are:
St Cuthbert’s Anglican church, Darlington, Western Australia
Wesley Uniting church, Perth
Gosford Anglican church, Sydney
Pilgrim Uniting church, Adelaide
St John’s Uniting church, Essendon
Paddington Anglican church, Sydney
Pitt Street Uniting church, Sydney
Wayside Chapel, Sydney