TEN Churches and cathedrals in Australia are offering sanctuary to asylum seekers who have suffered trauma and abuse to prevent their return to Nauru.
On Wednesday the high court ruled Australia’s offshore detention regime on Nauru had been lawfully established.
The decision means that up to 267 asylum seekers on the mainland could be sent back to the island nation, where a large number of serious sexual assaults have been reported. A Senate inquiry also raised serious concerns about conditions on Nauru, where infant children are being held.
The right to sanctuary, while not now recognised under common law in Australia or other jurisdictions, is a biblical concept that had legal basis during the middle ages.
The Anglican Dean of Brisbane, the Very Reverend Dr Peter Catt, said he was prepared to be charged with an offence for obstruction by trying to prevent federal authorities from entering the cathedral grounds.
“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,” he told ABC Radio National on Thursday.
There is an offence under Australian law for “concealing and harbouring non-citizens”, which could potentially be used against the heads of churches seeking to prevent asylum seekers from being deported.
Other 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