Mothers and Babies in Detention

Thank God The Churches Found Their Voice At The Right Time

Published 9 February 2016. Written by Tim Costello for the Huffington Post. Read the full article on the Huffington Post site here.

Last week, churches and church leaders around Australia intervened in the issue of sending asylum seekers, including children, to Nauru, following the High Court decision upholding the government’s legal power to do so.

Beginning with St John’s Cathedral in Brisbane, churches of many denominations across Australia offered sanctuary to these asylum-seekers, most of whom were brought to Australia for medical treatment. The United Nations high commissioner for human rights has urged Australia not to return them to Nauru, saying their physical and mental condition is fragile.

Sanctuary is an idea that apparently finds no place in modern Australian law, but it has a long history stretching back to Old Testament times.

The word ‘asylum’ comes from the Greek asylos — inviolable — and refers to the idea that a sacred place could not be entered and that someone who sought refuge there was safe. So if a person accidentally killed someone, a temple or ‘city of refuge’ could save them from blood vengeance. This not only conforms to the Christian idea of mercy but also upheld the social fabric by providing a mechanism that could break the cycle of violence and revenge. It provided a solution in circumstances where people had seemingly run out of options.

I think the concept of sanctuary is as relevant and important today as ever, and the churches are absolutely right to have raised this idea at this time.

To begin with, the 267 people affected by the High Court’s ruling have committed no crime, simply sought refuge from persecution and danger. The group includes more than a dozen women and at least one child who have allegedly suffered sexual assault or harassment on Nauru. It includes 37 babies born in Australia to asylum-seeking mothers, and 54 children. Using them as pawns in a political game is cynical and cruel. It is unconscionable.

As a political and humanitarian concept rather than a legal one, sanctuary has played an important role in fighting oppression and evil in modern history as well as ancient times.

The ‘underground railway’ not only protected escaped slaves in pre-Civil War America, it also contributed to the political momentum for emancipation. In almost every country of Europe, people took massive personal risks to provide sanctuary for Jews during the Nazi genocide.

Today we face the appalling truth of family violence here in Australia. Refuge for women dealing with violent situations is an essential part of the community’s response.

People in vulnerable situations need sanctuary, and governments that proclaim adherence to liberal and democratic values ought to provide it. Clearly conditions in Nauru and Manus fail to do this. People in Nauru and Manus are at risk of serious physical and psychological harm.

But if governments choose pragmatic political advantage at the cost of the safety of vulnerable human beings, it falls to people of conscience to do what is within their power. For churches, this must mean speaking truth to power, and where possible it should also include deeds.

Some politicians responded predictably with threats and warnings that the law will not be defied. But in fact the churches had never said they would break the law. What they were doing was putting the political and moral ball into the government’s court. This was not so much civil disobedience, but a timely provocation that had the effect of questioning the government’s flawed moral logic and forcing any decision to be taken in the public square.

Churches are not a department of state, and much as people in power might curse meddlesome priests, the churches have both a right and a duty to speak and act from conscience. Even those who disagree with any particular policy position should value this. There is a very fine line between pragmatism and surrendering to indifference to suffering.

We are at risk of boiled frog syndrome, where we slide towards surrender by degrees and not realising what is really happening or just how much is being lost.

Sometimes, unpopular and counter-cultural thoughts and deeds are the necessary preventive agent against a degeneration of our liberal and democratic values. So someone needs to act like the canary in the coalmine, sounding a warning before it becomes too late.

Fewer Australians attend church today that in the past, but I think there’s a powerful streak in our national character that affirms the uncomplicated notions of justice and compassion that Jesus proposed.

In standing up against a slide into cruelty and indifference, the churches are both staying true to their timeless beliefs, and performing a valuable role in upholding liberal and democratic values.

Eventually someone has to say, “If not us, who?” and “If not now, when?” Thank God the churches have found their voice at the right time.

By | 2018-01-04T16:13:46+10:00 March 7th, 2016|Front - Campaigns, Mothers and Babies in Detention, Sanctuary|

Churches pray this is the beginning of the end for offshore detention

Media Release 21 February 2016

Churches pray this is the beginning of the end for offshore detention

The Australian Church’s Refugee Taskforce and 80 sanctuary churches across Australia applaud the community effort that has resulted in baby Asha and her family being kept safe here in Australia.

The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has welcomed the government’s decision to show compassion after an intensive campaign by a wide range of social groups including churches.

Misha Coleman, Executive Officer of the Taskforce’s and National coordinator of the Church Sanctuary Movement said that there is one simple reason that this little girl is now going to live in a home in the community – and that’s the people who stood up and demanded better treatment of her – and who refused to allow her to be deported to Nauru.

“Churches have played a critical role in this social movement. We are incredibly proud that churches from numerous denominations and faiths led resistance to un-Christian and unconscionable treatment of people in the offshore detention camps”.

“We continue to stand resolute to offer protection and sanctuary to the 267 vulnerable people who require confidence and certainty in their lives.

“Churches provided offers of sanctuary. These offers stand.

“Today shows the power we have if we stand together in peaceful non violent action. Churches have a proud tradition in this role and we are proud of our role in today’s historic outcome.

“We’re not done yet either. This is the start of a movement in Australia that is determined to see vulnerable people treated with compassion.

Media Contact: Amy Gordon 0410 631 404


Cathedrals and Churches offer Sanctuary from Nauru

PRESS RELEASE:  4 February, 2016

Cathedrals and Churches around Australia offer Sanctuary to Asylum Seekers Families Facing Deportation to Nauru

Brisbane’s St John’s Anglican Cathedral, amongst others, has been declared a place of sanctuary for asylum seekers facing deportation after yesterday’s High Court decision which allowed for their imminent removal to Nauru (more…)


Anglican Dean of Brisbane, the Very Rev’d Dr Peter Catt says he is declaring the church as a sanctuary, given the trauma and abuse these asylum seekers face if deported.

“The High Court’s decision means 267 people including 37 babies face imminent removal to Nauru. They could be issued notices at any time and ordered to leave Australia within 72 hours,” said Dr Catt.

“This is a hugely significant action for any Australian church to take. Historically churches have afforded sanctuary to those seeking refuge from brutal and oppressive forces.

“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,” said the Very Rev’d Dr Catt.

“This 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. It is a step that will attract the attention of church communities around the world.”

“The ancient principle of sanctuary goes back to The Old Testament, and was enshrined in English Common Law. Where a state is causing grievous harm, churches can provide sanctuary and immunity from arrest by authorities. The legality of Sanctuary has never been tested under Australian law, nevertheless we are determined to apply its moral precepts and protect the most vulnerable from certain harm.”

Misha Coleman, Executive Officer for the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, said that “Cathedrals that have offered to protect asylum seekers from deportation to a place where people face, rape, sexual assault, and unimaginable conditions, include: St John’s Cathedral Brisbane, St George’s Cathedral Perth and St David’s Cathedral Hobart.

She also said that “many priests and vicars of local churches who feel compelled to provide the moral leadership that their position requires, have also offered Sanctuary. These include: St Matthew’s Anglican Church Albury; The Anglican Church of the Resurrection (Anglican) in Brisbane; St Cuthbert’s Anglican Church Darlington, WA; Perth Wesley Uniting Church; Gosford Anglican Church; GraceTree Baptist Church in Coburg, Melbourne; Pilgrim Uniting Church in Adelaide; St. John’s Uniting Church Essendon; Paddington Anglican Church; Pitt Street Uniting Church and the Wayside Chapel in Sydney. Many other churches have offered to support the Sanctuaries in various ways”.

A press conference will be held on Thursday 4th February at 10.30am with The Very Rev’d Dr Peter Catt at St John’s Anglican Cathedral, Brisbane.

Media spokespeople:

The Very Rev’d Dr Peter Catt, Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce: 0404 052 494

Misha Coleman, Executive Officer, Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce: 0428 399 739

Christian Analysis of AHRC Report into Children in Detention

The Forgotten Children in Detention: It is the simplest of instructions to followers of Christ: “learn to do good; seek justice, rescue the oppressed, defend the orphan, plead for the widow” (Isaiah 1:17). It speaks to our moral obligation to the most vulnerable in our society; an obligation that is central to our beliefs and one that should inform our actions. How devastating then to read of the horrors that child asylum seekers have experienced in Australian detention centres in the Australian Human Rights Commission’s report, The Forgotten Children.

The report, tabled in Parliament late Wednesday night, interviewed 1129 children and parents and revealed 233 cases of assault and 33 cases of sexual assault against children and 128 incidents of self-harm by children over a 15 month period. While the numbers alone should be sufficient to horrify us, it was the stories of young people so traumatised by a system of our creation that they actively sought to end their lives that moved me most. The story of a 17 year old boy from Iraq who self-harmed ten times, including attempting to jump off a building, punching through a window, and cutting himself. The story of a 17 year old girl from Somalia who had to be hospitalised on the Australian mainland for three months due to her severe depression, only to be sent back to a locked detention centre once she was discharged from the psychiatric unit. If the measure of a society is how we treat our most vulnerable, then we have failed as a nation, and it is a stain on our very soul.

The report detailed the failures of successive Ministers who are charged with the care of young asylum seekers. Currently, the Minister for Immigration and Border Protection is both the legal guardian and the jailer of unaccompanied children in detention. The Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce has long called for this to change, arguing for an independent advocate to be appointed to protect children without parents caught up in our detention regime. While all children in detention suffer unnecessary and almost unimaginable horrors on a daily basis, those without parents are forced to endure this nightmare alone. Denying them even the right to an independent advocate is one of the cruellest aspects of our punitive immigration laws.

The response of the Government to the tabling of the report is telling. Our Prime Minister suggested that former Immigration Minister Scott Morrison be sent “a note of congratulations… saying well done, mate,” and when questioned about whether he felt any guilt over the 211 children still detained in Australia or the 119 children detained on Nauru, his response was an emphatic, “none whatsoever”. This callous disregard for the welfare of children shocked many of us, and yet it has been the driving ideology behind our immigration system for the last 23 years. For over two decades we have known about the negative impacts of detaining children, and yet the practice continues. Australia is – shamefully – the only country in the world that treats children in this manner.

In the Gospel of Mark we hear Jesus speak of his love for children: “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me”. As Christians, we must not allow those in detention to be forgotten; we must not allow the suffering of child asylum seekers to continue unabated. Our moral duty is clear: we must welcome these children and end the practice of mandatory, arbitrary and indefinite detention once and for all.

By | 2018-01-04T16:13:59+10:00 February 13th, 2015|Front - Opinion, Mothers and Babies in Detention|

The Government’s demonising of the Human Rights Commission is totally unethical: ABC news interview.

A coalition of church leaders believes pressure is building within Government ranks to end the policy that has led to long-term child detentions. Misha Coleman, Taskforce EO, said there was a significant and growing number of backbenchers that want change. Read the full story.

By | 2015-02-13T13:11:24+10:00 February 13th, 2015|Latest News, Mothers and Babies in Detention|

Churches fear for 100 babies who may be shipped off to Nauru in 24 hours time

Refugee Roulette:  Australia-born Babies Left Stateless and Homeless

Outcome of Federal Circuit Court Case re babies of asylum seekers born in Australia

Speaking from the Federal Circuit Court in Brisbane today, The Chair of the Australian Churches Refugee Taskforce, the Very Reverend Dr Peter Catt, said that “the Taskforce is greatly saddened by the decision of the Court in Brisbane which ruled that babies born in Australian immigration centres are essentially unauthorised maritime arrivals”.

Mothers in detention centres across Australia and offshore sat desperately awaiting the outcome of this case today. In just three weeks, Brisbane-born baby Ferouz will be 1 year old.  He will have spent his entire life behind bars, in detention.

The Minister for Immigration has argued that this baby, born in the Mater hospital in Brisbane and who has a Queensland birth certificate, is an “unauthorised maritime arrival.”  This argument was upheld by the Federal Circuit Court today.

Father Catt said that” we are now extremely fearful for the fate of 100 babies and their families, whose future lies in this decision today. They could be sent offshore in 24 hours time, to the hellish conditions we know exist on Nauru.”

The Minister wants to clear a desolate path so he can send this Brisbane-born baby and his family back to the detention camp on Nauru. A tiny little island country that regularly runs out of fresh water,  that has a ‘crisis of law’ and which sits on the brink of bankruptcy, and which is kept afloat financially only by the millions of Australia’s taxpayer dollars that are poured into it to house our refugees.

These babies and families will be sent to a detention camp built on a harsh coral and phosphate wasteland (photos attached), where there are serious allegations of physical and sexual abuse of children, of women being forced into sexual acts with guards in order to access water, and of medical negligence, amongst other inexcusable circumstances.

Father Catt said: “This is legal gymnastics. It is deeply disturbing that the Minister for Immigration has so desperately sought to deny baby Ferouz a fair chance at having his claim for protection and possible Australian citizenship heard.  How can we rationally call babies born in Australia ‘boat people’?”

Father Catt said that “even if given refugee status and released, baby  Ferouz and his family will remain stateless. Nauru has said it won’t resettle anyone longer than five years. So we consign baby Ferouz to an early childhood of detention and deprivation, and then what happens when he comes of school age?”

Misha Coleman, Executive Officer of the Taskforce said that “when I met this family in the Brisbane Detention Centre, mum Latifa had just been separated by the Australian Government  from her newborn baby, Ferouz. Ferouz’ dad had been on the run since the Burmese army killed his own father when he was 7 years old.  How much more do we need to put this family through?” she asked today.

Media Inquiries: Misha Coleman, 0428 399 739, Executive Officer, Churches Refugee Taskforce.

Photos of the “Nursery Camp” on Nauru, where baby Ferouz will be sent if the Palmer/Morrison Bill goes through (Migration and Maritime Powers Legislation Amendment (Resolving the Asylum Legacy Caseload) Bill 2014

Churches Refugee Taskforce Press Release – Refugee Roulette  (for photos of Nauru Nursery Camp attached)

By | 2014-10-15T17:05:54+10:00 October 15th, 2014|Front - News, Latest News, Mothers and Babies in Detention|