NEWS | Tess Holgate
Tuesday 15 March 2016
Hundreds of people gathered at churches over the weekend to learn how to resist attempts by government officials to enter churches and remove stowed asylum seekers.
Spearheaded by the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce in partnership with GetUp!, the training educated participants on how to engage in non-violent protest, including the difference between resisting arrest and simply being in the way, and the litany of supporting roles needed for a successful peaceful protest.
Richard Humphrey, the Dean of Hobart at St David’s Anglican Cathedral, which hosted one of the training days, said, “it’s a powerful symbolic gesture on behalf of the church rather than an offer of legal protection. As far as we are aware, there is no legal basis for us saying that [the authorities] can’t take this person.”
Even though it’s a symbolic gesture, it is still a genuine offer, and the 115 churches who have signed up to offer sanctuary are willing to house and protect any asylum seekers who approach and ask for help.
Humphrey said that part of the training was to think through the practicalities of offering sanctuary, suggesting that “there may be weeks or months that pass with someone living in the cathedral, so we’re looking at what that might look like.”
70 people attended the training at St. David’s Hobart, with only five or six being from the congregation itself. They came from many denominations, and some of no faith at all.
While Humphrey doesn’t think that any of the 267 affected asylum seekers currently live in Tasmania, “there are people here on bridging visas with expiry dates – some in our churches – and the government has indicated that if they don’t leave they will be taken into detention. So this impacts more than just the 267 asylum seekers.”
In Perth, another 50-70 people attended sanctuary training at Uniting Church in the City.
Although no asylum seekers have taken up the offer of sanctuary at any of the 115 churches who have offered, Craig Collas, minister at Uniting Church in the City, said, “[the training] puts the government on notice that we’re prepared to do it.
“Previously, Border Force were approaching [asylum seekers] in the middle of the night and lifting them away. Sanctuary means they won’t be able to do it in the middle of the night, they’ll have to do it during the day so people know what’s going on,” said Collas.
Collas believes that asylum seekers haven’t taken up the offer of sanctuary because they are not being deported immediately.
The Australian Churches Refugees Taskforce has been encouraging churches to offer sanctuary to asylum seekers affected by the early February decision of the High Court of Australia which ruled offshore detention lawful, disrupting the lives of 267 asylum seekers currently residing on the Australian mainland.
Image: ‘LetThemStay Refugee Rally Sydney 20160208’ by Andrew Hill. Licence at http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0.