Drawing on core Christian values and traditions, the Taskforce is committed to offering a strong Christian moral voice into what has become a heated and hostile public debate fuelled by divisive political rhetoric and constantly changing policies.
Many Australians support ‘tough’ positions against asylum seekers who arrive by boat and rank asylum seeker issues as one of the top issues facing our country.
Some Christians, like many other Australians, are concerned about unsustainable numbers of asylum seekers arriving by boat and a fear of the ‘floodgates’ opening if we were to have more compassionate policies. Others have voiced concern about fears of Islamicisation and the changing demographic of Australia. Many more share a deep concern that people are drowning in small, overcrowded and unseaworthy boats making dangerous voyages.
As Christians seeking to live faithful lives and respond to others with the grace of God, there is probably no more confusing and complex area of public policy and debate than this.
We are confronted not only by deaths at sea but also by our concerns for those refugees in camps throughout Africa and Asia. We see vulnerable people suffering because of harsh and punitive policies administered by our Government here in Australia and in offshore detention centres on Nauru and Manus Island, PNG. Children are locked up in immigration detention centres, asylum seekers are living in poverty in the community with no end in sight to their situation and on Manus Island and Nauru the conditions are harsh and damaging to people’s health and wellbeing. The problems seem too great and the solutions elusive.
With such difficult moral questions around Australia’s treatment of asylum seekers, it is important to step back from the prevailing public debate and draw guidance from our identity as ‘disciples’. We know that we do not always respond to human suffering and need with compassion and love. We are often driven by our fears and our confusion to give assent to ‘solutions’ which punish rather than protect. Through the national debates around asylum seekers, we have seen the best of the Australian national character – generosity, hospitality, practical care and deep compassion, and the worst of our nation – political opportunism, mean-spiritedness and fear of outsiders.
This paper describes the faith foundations for the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce. Drawing on core Christian values and traditions, the Taskforce is committed to offering a strong Christian moral voice into what has become a heated and hostile public debate fuelled by divisive political rhetoric and constantly changing policies.
At a time when policies relating to asylum seekers and refugees are increasingly harsh and the public debate lacks compassion, generosity and hospitality, the churches have recognised that a common action and voice are necessary. Read the full statement.
People do not flee their homes, their family, friends and community and undertake perilous, potentially deadly journeys without very good reason. Refugees are people who are forced to flee their homelands to escape persecution, including imprisonment and torture.
Asylum seekers who arrive on our shores should be welcomed and offered appropriate care in the community (once initial health, security and identity checks have been done) while their protection claims are assessed.
Asylum seekers (consistent with their human rights and Australia’s obligations under international law) should have their claims for protection processed in a fair, transparent and timely manner and that they should have access to review of their case should protection be denied.
The arrival of asylum seekers is of great interest to the general public, but asylum seekers who arrive by boat should not be used for political point scoring.
Government policies should not deliberately expose people to harm. Punishing a vulnerable group of people (asylum seekers) in order to send a message to another group of people (people smugglers and other asylum seekers) is abusive and unconscionable.
Asylum seekers in the community should have the right to work: to provide them with a way to support their family, foster self-reliance, to give them a means to contribute to Australian society and for their own human dignity.
At May 2013 there were 1731 children still being held in Australian immigration detention centres, an extraordinary amount. Under no circumstances should children be locked up.
Asylum seekers and refugees should be able to find hope and restoration from the despair and persecution from which they have fled. Refugees and asylum seekers should be able to be reunited with their families. No-one should be detained indefinitely and without the right to challenge their detention.
As one of the wealthiest, safest and most secure countries in the world, we should be able to fund a humanitarian response to asylum seekers without taking money away from our overseas aid commitments.
It was agreed that the inaugural meeting of the Taskforce would held on 14th February in Melbourne, and at that meeting, the following was decided:
Rob was previously the National Director of UnitingWorld and Associate Director for Relief and Development programs with our overseas Church partners. Rob is particularly passionate about providing rural and marginalised communities, and especially women, with opportunities to improve their livelihoods. Rob’s interest in community development was sparked during the seven years he and his wife Jacqui spent as Mission Co-workers for the Uniting Church in West Timor, Indonesia. During this time Rob taught at a Christian University and also worked as a consultant with a Christian Micro Finance Organisation, Tanaoba Lais Manekat.
Carmen Lazar is a well-known Assyrian community representative. Carmen migrated to Australia in 1971 with her parents and two sisters. She is respected and valued among community services networks. Currently Carmen is the Manager and Community Settlement Officer, Assyrian Resource Centre that includes the Assyrian Australian Association which is in receipt of funding from the Department of Immigration and Border Protection for Settlement Grants Program (SGP) and for Diversity and Social Cohesion Program (DSCP). Carmen is also a Member of the Fairfield Migrant Interagency (Fairfield Council) and in the past has been Principal of the Assyrian Diqlat School which is the Saturday Assyrian school that operates in two schools in NSW. Carmen is a member of the Immigrant Women’s Network Group for the prevention of violence against women and a Community Support for Women Volunteer (once a month), Villawood Detention Centre.
Dr Catt is Dean of St John’s Anglican Cathedral in Brisbane. He is committed to forming life-giving relationships within the community and across the diocese and city. His interest include Christian Formation, liturgical innovation, the interaction between science and religion, and narrative theology. He is a member of a number of environmental and Human Rights organisations and has served on Anglican Social Justice Committees at both Diocesan and National level. Dr Catt was the previous Chair of the ACRT for five years.
Rev Meewon Yang grew up in Korea where she was raised an active Presbyterian, and came to Australia in 1989. She was ordained as a Baptist Pastor in 1997, and soon after began working with the Baptist Union as a Multicultural Adviser. She is now a Multicultural Pastor, caring for pastors and congregations in Victoria’s 70 migrant ethnic Baptist congregations from Non-English Speaking Backgrounds. Meewon has been a passionate advocate for asylum seekers and refugees. She established the Refugee Airfare and Assistance scheme, pioneered a chaplaincy role at an asylum seeker house set up by Brunswick Baptist Church, and then helped to establish the Sanctuary asylum seeker transitional housing project run by Baptcare. In 2012 Meewon completed her Masters Degree which looked at models of Multicultural ministry. She is a regular adjunct lecturer at Whitley College and within the MCD University.
As Executive Officer of the Catholic Justice and Peace Commission of Brisbane, Peter Arndt is also Convenor of the Brisbane Refugee and Asylum Seeker Support Network. He participates in a number of reference groups associated with the management of Government-funded refugee support programs and the Brisbane Immigration Transit Accommodation. He also works in advocacy on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander issues, climate change, protection of outworkers, the death penalty and human rights in Sri Lanka and West Papua.
Brigid Arthur is a Brigidine Sister who trained both as a Primary and Secondary teacher. She taught and was Principal of schools for many years. Brigid has a degree in Arts (MelbourneUniversity) and educational and Mathematics/Science degrees from Australian Catholic University, La Trobe University,Monash University and Melbourne University. Brigid studied at Fordham University in New York where she graduated with a Masters degree in Religious Education. She has studied theology at Yarra Theological College.
Brigid is the joint coordinator of the Brigidine Asylum Seekers’ Project. This work has been at both a hands-on level – helping asylum seekers and refugees with accommodation, and other practical support, and in advocacy – trying to change the present policies and procedures used in Australia to deter asylum seekers coming to this country. Brigid is a member of the Board of the Asylum Seekers Project and a member of the Refugee Advocacy Network.
Helen most recently was the Director of Lutheran Community Care in South Australia and Northern Territory and is a member of the Australian Churches Gambling Taskforce. She is a member of the Lutheran Church of Australia’s Commission on Social and Bioethical Questions and has worked within the South Australian Council of Churches, contributing to the Theology and Welfare in Conversation group. Originally trained as a teacher, she most enjoys listening to the stories and experiences of people and learning from them.Helen is currently in a discernment process to determine how to bring her skills to another opportunity.
Dr. Jill Parris left South Africa in1980 to move away from the restrictive apartheid government. She is a retired psychologist, trained in Australia and worked for the last ten years of her career to help settle humanitarian entrants who had fled war or famine in their countries of origin. She is a Quaker whose concern lies with advocating for people who have been confined in on or offshore detention by the Australian government. Alongside this she is one of many supporters who draw alongside some of those who live on temporary visas within the community while waiting to be accepted for permanent residence within Australia. Jill has an abiding interest in peace building which she has pursued though writing.
Major Karen Elkington has served as a Salvation Army Officer for more than 25 years. Since 2010, Karen has lead The Salvation Army's Asylum Seeker & Refugee Service which supports people seeking asylum who reside in the Northern & Western suburbs of Melbourne. The Service offers a specialised Emergency Relief and Material Aid response as well as supporting people seeking asylum by offering case work and spiritual support with a vibrant Chaplaincy program which has seeded a Salvation Army Farsi speaking congregation. Other support is also offered for women and children seeking asylum through a therapeutic music therapy and support program.
Karen has been The Salvation Army's representative on the Network of Asylum Seeker Agencies (NASAVic) since 2010. Since 2017 Karen has enjoyed working with the Jewish community and is a committee member on Temple Beth Israel's Project Dignity which is Tillun Olam (repairing the world) group that focusses on supporting people of refugee and asylum seeker backgrounds.
Rev. Jegasothy is a minister with the Uniting Church Australia, currently serving the congregation of Rose-bay – Vaucluse, and the Tamil congregation in Dulwich Hill. Before coming to Australia in 1986 he served as a minister with the Methodist Church of Sri Lanka for 13years. Both in Sri Lanka and in Australia, Rev. Jegasothy has been actively involved in the justice, human rights and welfare of internally displaced people, asylum seekers and refugees.
Since arriving in Australia, Rev Jegasothy has worked tirelessly to promote the welfare of asylum seekers and refugees especially from Sri Lankan arriving in this country, particularly those fleeing the violence of war. In recognition of this service, Amnesty International nominated Rev. Jegasothy in 2003 for the Australian Council for Overseas Aid (ACFOA) Human Rights award. In 2009 he received a Humanitarian Award from the Refugee Council of Australia (RCA), and the NSW Service for the Treatment and Rehabilitation of Torture and Trauma Survivors (STARTTS).
Born and raised in Queensland, Richard was ordained an Anglican priest in 1977, and has served in parish ministry, theological education and ecumenical ministry activities, including as a broadcaster on Christian radio. Richard is now General Secretary and was previous President of Queensland Churches Together. He is Chaplain to Anglican Archbishop of Brisbane, the Most Reverend Dr Phillip Aspinall, with responsibility for Diocesan and Provincial matters and Residentiary Canon of St John’s Cathedral, Brisbane. He also serves as a member of the Ministry Education Commission and the Anglican Committee for Ecumenical Affairs. In addition to his years of parish ministry, he has also served as Vice Principal, Dean of Studies and Lecturer in Biblical Studies at St John’s Theological College, Morpeth NSW and as Regional Representative for ABM in Queensland. Richard holds a Bachelor of Divinity from the University of Queensland and a Masters in Professional Communications from the University of Southern Queensland.
Caz Coleman has been involved with the NCCA and AfP since her youth as a member of the Victorian NCCA Board. In 2000 she volunteered with an AfP partner, OfERR in India with Sri Lankan refugees and went on to specialise in asylum and refugee policy in Australia. Caz has experience in migration law, torture and trauma support and asylum policy having spent 6 years on the Ministerial Advisory Council for Asylum and Detention. Caz lead welfare services in Nauru in 2013 and most recently was the CEO of the FASST and settlement agency, Melaleuca Refugee Centre in Darwin. Caz has an academic background in Theology.
James has served as National Advocacy Officer for the Program on Refugees and Displaced People, and is currently operating as the Associate Director of Policy and Advocacy. In 2007 and 2008, James was the Rapporteur for UNHCR’s Annual Consultations with NGOs, and he has attended the Ministerial Consultations and the DIAC-NGO Dialogue on Humanitarian Issues for the past seven years. James co-chairs the ACFID Protection Working Group, is the founding member and chair of the ACT International Protection Advisory Group, and is heavily involved in refugee rights work. Prior to his current position he spent five years in Ethiopia and Eritrea working as a journalist and in the development field.