Seeking and Sharing the Fullness of Life

Update on Church Sanctuary movement

Hi all,

I wanted to let you know about where the Sanctuary movement, and the broader Let Them Stay movement, is at.

To recap, the movement is currently focussing on 267 asylum seekers currently on the mainland who are at risk of being returned to offshore detention.  The Let Them Stay movement has raised public awareness about their plight and garnered calls for a more humane response.

As part of this, a number of churches have responded by offering ‘sanctuary’ to anyone from this group who fears imminent removal, as a last resort.  As you know, South Yarra Baptist agreed at the last congregational meeting to offer our support in terms of money and people to the Sanctuary movement.

Currently 122 churches across Australia have signed up to do the same (38 in Victoria).  In Melbourne, Brunswick Uniting Church and the Richmond Salvation Army Church are the two ‘tier one’ churches (that is, the places where asylum seekers from the 267 cohort can approach for sanctuary if they fear imminent removal).  Other churches (including South Yarra) may be asked to offer support if and when sanctuary is sought.

Since the Let Them Stay movement started, 180 of the 267 are in community detention on the mainland rather than locked up.  This is an improvement, but the Minister is still insisting that none of these people will be resettled in Australia.

While the Sanctuary movement is quite focussed on the 267 group, those involved are keen a shift in the whole conversation about how we treat asylum seekers.

Currently Australia’s harsh treatment of asylum seekers rests on three pillars:

  1. Public support (roughly 75%)
  2. A bipartisan political consensus
  3. Corporate services to mandatory detention facilities

GetUp! supported a successful campaign ‘No Business in Abuse’ to target the third pillar.  Let Them Stay is aimed at the first two pillars.

At the moment, strategically it seems best to keep the focus on specific people affected by the policies.  However,  at the right time politically the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, GetUp! and the Human Rights Law Centre are keen to start a discussion about alternatives to offshore detention.

If you’re interested in some ideas, you can watch this TEDtalk about what a Better Way could look like.

And the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce website is here.